Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Where Aren't They Now?"

A Personal Pre-Note:

Not infrequently, I will begin a post with “Maybe it’s just me…”, secretly hoping there will be at least a couple of outliers out there who will identify.  “No, Earl, it’s me too.  And aren’t we wonderful to be blessed with this minority perspective!”  This time, I am almost certain “It’s just me.”  Though it would be comforting if I were incorrect. 

Thank you, and enjoy.

Maybe it’s just me…

But I found myself watching an early 1930’s-era movie the other evening, and the first thought that ran through my mind – before the film started, they were still rolling the opening credits – was…

“Everybody in this movie is dead.”

Do you find that an unusual way of thinking?  Or is it a normal and natural reaction to a movie produced a really, really long time ago? 

I personally do not know.   As there is only one “me”, and that “me” thinks in a particular manner.  There is no “Control Earl” I can use for comparison.  I have one way of thinking about things, my thinking in this regard being,

“Everybody in this movie is dead.”

Let me quickly dissuade you from the idea that this now exposed-to-the-world morbidity is a product of my advancing agefulness – “Everybody in this movie is dead, and pretty soon I’ll be dead too.”   It is not that at all – I thought the same way when I was young.  Except that then, pushing the time-line back commensurately, I was reacting to “silent movies” that were produced even earlier.

We are talking “longstanding observation” here.  Which, for me, applies not only to movies but to television as well.  And not just to people.  It also applies to animals.

Here’s what I mean.

In preparing a show for broadcast, the final procedure, following the filming and the editing, is a technical process called “post-production”, commonly called “Post” for short.  “We’ll fix it in ‘Post’”, is an oft-heard pronouncement, meaning, “Although what we have just produced is a ‘train wreck’, somehow, magically, we will pull it together during the resuscitating process of post-production.

Sometimes it happens. 

Lore has it that Woody Allen’s classic Annie Hall was originally entitled Anhedonia, which is not in my dictionary but I believe it refers to the inability to enjoy anything.  Upon eleventh hour reconsideration, this depressing perspective was abandoned in post-production, the available raw footage – and possibly other production elements as well such as the music – were reconfigured, transforming an undeniable “downer” into a beguiling romantic comedy.

Annie Hall’s satirical opposite is reflected in Albert Brooks’ Modern Romance, in which a character’s running, recorded during actual filming, is replaced by a “running track”, recorded in the post-production studio itself, the replacement running grafted into the soundtrack of the movie. 

After working diligently on this replacement effect, Brooks, playing a film editor, turns to the beleaguered post-production supervisor for his opinion, to which the veteran supervisor laconically responds,

“You saved the picture.”

Returning to the topic at hand, I was adding the finishing touches of “ambient sound” – meaning a pre-packaged soundtrack simulating the “outdoors” of, say, a house actually standing on the soundstage – into an impending broadcast episode of Major Dad.

It’s a kind of reality-inducing effect.  The front door momentarily opens and you hear birds chirping, or a barking dog.

Let me tell you, I participated in post-production for several decades.

It is always the same dog.

Today, when I hear that recognizable bark on contemporary sitcoms, I cannot help thinking,

“That venerable barker is most certainly no more.”

Now if you’re going, “There is nothing redeemable about that way of thinking”, you would not be entirely wrong about that.  On the other hand, you would be entirely right about that either.

Here’s what I mean.

Serving as the “Warm-Up” man on TV shows such as Cheers, it was my job to get the assembled live studio audience to laugh.  The following is my professional secret for doing so.

Microphone in hand, I would turn to the audience and say,

“I am going to level with you people.  As you probably know, there is a process in post-production called “Sweetening”, in which a technician, using a machine invented specifically for that purpose, mechanically inserts what is disparagingly known as “canned laughter” following jokes that the audience was supposed to laugh at but didn’t. 

“The thing is, the original ‘laugh track’ derived from the reactions of audience members attending filmings of I Love Lucy episodes in the 1950’s.  

“Many of those laughers are now, sadly, no longer with us.  I want you to think about this.  You are sitting there watching a sitcom today, and you hear an identifiable pre-recorded laugh, and, suddenly teary-eyed, you go,

‘That’s Grandpa!

“No pressure here.  All I am saying is, if you want to keep us from using the “laugh track”, risking the possibility of making some unsuspecting viewer watching in the comfort of their living room sad…


And I mean at everything.”

You know what?   They invariably did.


That even a morbid and disgusting perspective…

Has potential positive value.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

You are not the only one.

You are not even the only *public* one. In Alan Ayckbourn's play SEASON'S GREETINGS, one of the older characters, watching the same movie "they" have on every Christmas, mulls over all the dead actors in it.

"Damn fine film, though," he concludes. "Even if they are all dead."


Wojohowcziewiszch said...

Just a week or so ago I was thinking they better do that Barney Miller reunion while Barney's still with us. In fact, most of the main cast is still living, even Abe Vigoda. But, no time to dally.