THE SONG WAS YOU

A MEDITATION ON THE WELDING OF MUSIC TO MEMORY—AND MEMORY TO PAIN

by Guy Maddin

Music operates in occult ways. Not even Alfred Hitchcock and his composer Bernard Herrmann could have known exactly what they were doing during their mystical collaboration on Vertigo, their most perfervidly incantatorial shadowplay. When the great channeler Herrmann looked up Wagner on his Ouija board, he never could have known he’d end up pumping so much unleaded Liebestod into Jimmy Stewart’s gas tank, nor what queer mileage would be unspooled in Hitch’s rear-screen projections as a result.

The first score for 1928’s Un Chien Andalou was supplied by Luis Buñuel himself, who deejayed his favorite 78s from behind the curtains of the Cinema des Ursulines in Paris. He sloppily synchronized Beethoven, Wagner, and various scratched-out tangos in obedience to the surrealistic belief that randomness offered access to the subconscious. Whatever penetration he made into our irrational spheres was aided immensely by the powerful thrusts of those recordings, some of them classical chestnuts half-buried in the opiating murk of wine spilt in the grooves, and some of them of vague Spanish origin, as oneiric as the womb.

Music draws us into film, and then it draws us someplace still further away. Corridors traversing our movie-viewing experience will yawn open of a sudden and detour us toward the deathly source of all that is lyrical. Down these resounding hallways we trudge, perhaps toward a seashore, until from a distant Muscle Beach Party we hear some surf—or surf music—and we conclude that what Dick Dale and his Del-tones have always played is just klezmer on Stratocasters. Onward we move into this invisible architecture, through space and across centuries if necessary, pursuing we know not what, until we find it.

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Guy Maddin’s recent films include Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary, Cowards Bend the Knee, and The Saddest Music in the World. A collection of his writings, From the Atelier Tovar (Coach House Press), appeared last year.

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