1. Are Theatrical Experiences Applicable to the Film?
The special nature of the experiments conducted by the German theater of the pre-Hitler years enables us to use some of its experiences for the film as well—provided this is done with extreme caution. The German theater (of the twenties) owed more than a little to the film. It made use of epic, gestie and montage elements germane to the latter, and even employed the film itself by using documentary material. On the part of some aestheticians, protests were raised against the theatrical use of cinematographic material—unjustly so in my opinion. For in order to preserve the theatrical nature of the theater, one does not have to banish the film but only needs to use it theatrically. The film, too, can learn from the theater and make use of theatrical devices. But that does not necessarily mean that one should offer a photographic record of a theatrical performance. Actually, the film constantly uses theatrical elements. The less aware of this fact it is, the less successfully it uses them. It is, in fact, quite depressing to see how much bad theater it produces. The turn toward more intimate aspects and toward the use of preconceived types, as well as the rejection of histrionics (antihamism), which occurred during the transition from the silent film to the sound film, has deprived the film of much expressiveness without freeing it from the clutches of the theater. One only needs, standing in the foyer, to listen to these antihams in order to realize immediately how operatically and unnaturally they speak.
8. The Sense of Logic
As previously stated, cinematographic music is often used to “drown out” logical absurdities, leaps and inconsistencies of the action. It is easy for the composer to concoct a kind of artificial logic by evoking the sense of fatalism, inevitability, and so on. In such cases, the composers furnish the logic as certain cooks supply vitamin tablets with their dishes. Actually, the composer’s knack for bringing out, with a few sleights of hand, the constructional logic inherent in his pieces and for thus causing us to enjoy the logic qua logic, could become significant for the film if it were properly harnessed. With the help of such music, apparently incoherent events can be linked and contradictory ones structurally integrated. To put it differently: if the music causes the audience to “take in details” and rationalize, the film writer can portray the course of an action much more dialectically, i. е., in all its paradoxicalness and incoherence. If, for example, a man is to be shown as being influenced by a) his father’s death, b) an upward trend in the stock market, and c) the outbreak of a war, the montage can be richer, more complex or, simply, more extended if the music guarantees the integration of these factors. In the documentary film, [Hanns] Eisler and [Joris] Ivens have used music in this manner by juxtaposing two major processes—the conquest of arable land through the construction of the Zuiderzee dam and the destruction of Canadian wheat for the sake of price stabilization—in one film. . .1
14. The Separation of the Elements
Perhaps it would be advisable, at this point, to mention certain far-reaching experiments which, cinematographically, have, so far, been used only in the documentary film—that is to say, a very limited area—whereas in the theater they have already acquired considerable importance. I am referring to the separation of the elements constituting the theatrical work of art which was primarily effected in pre-Hitlerian Germany. That is to say, the music and the action were treated as totally independent ingredients. The musical pieces were visibly inserted into the action, and the style of acting changed as songs were introduced or a dialogue musically underlined. Generally, the orchestra remained fully visible and was integrated with the action by means of special lighting. The setting itself constituted a third, independent factor. Thus it became possible to introduce passages in which the music and the setting collaborated even in the absence of action, as in Man is Man, where a little serenade was played while slides were concurrently projected. In the opera Rise and Fall of the [City of] Mahagonny2 the same principle was used in a different way. Here the three elements—action, music, and setting—appeared jointly but separately in a scene which shows a man eating himself to death. The actor cnacted the suicidal feast in front of a huge picture portraying an over-lifesize feaster, while a chorus narrated the event in chanting. The music, the setting and the actor thus independently portrayed the same event. These examples are somewhat extreme, and I don’t believe that anything similar can be done in the present-day movies. I have mentioned them mainly in order to show what is meant by the separation of the elements. This principle, at any rate, made it possible to use music of intrinsic value to enhance the overall effect of a play. Three of the best German composers of our day—[Hanns] Eisler, [Paul] Hindemith and [Kurt] Weill—participated in the experiment.
15. The Separation of the Elements in the Art Film
Used with discretion, the principle of the separation of the elements of “music” and “action” could also serve to produce some novel effects in the movies, provided that the composer is not consulted after the fact, as is now customary. He would have to participate from the start in planning the intended cine־ matographic effects. For, on principle, the music can assume certain functions, which ought to be reserved for it. If, for example, one is willing and able to use the music for expressing human emotions, all sorts of actions which, otherwise, would serve to express the mental phenomena in question, would become superfluous. The ripening of a man’s decision to act, for example, could be portrayed pantomimically; that is to say: the man could be shown by himself, pacing up and down, while the music would assume the task of drawing his emotional curve. The fewer gestures the actor uses in the process, the stronger the effect is likely to be. In such a scene, the music acts quite independently and makes a genuine dramatic contribution. Let us consider another possibility: a young man rows his sweetheart out onto the lake, causes the boat to capsize and lets the girl drown.3 Here the composer can do one of two things. By means of the accompanying music he can anticipate the audience reaction in building up tension, stressing the heinousness of the crime, and so forth. But he can also depict the serenity of the natural scene, the indifference of nature, or the ordinariness of the event, which, after all, is a mere excursion. If he chooses this latter alternative, he assigns to the music a considerably more independent role by causing the murder to appear much more frightening than unnatural.
From Brecht’s Schriften zum Theater (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1963), III, 288-289, 294-295, 298-301, by permission of the publisher. Translation copyright 1972 by Stefan Brecht. Translated by Ulrich Weisstein.
1.An allusion to the film Zuiderzee (Holland, 1931/33), directed by Joris Ivens; montage by Helen van Dongen. See further: Joris Ivens, The Camera and I, New York, 1969, and Hanns Eisler, Composing for the Films, London, 1961.
2.The two works mentioned are by Brecht.
3.The allusion is to a climactic episode of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. The filmic treatment of this episode is discussed at length by Eisenstein in his essay, “A Course in Treatment,” in Film Form by S. M. Eisenstein.