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Watchmen Haters....

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Emperor Xan

Joined: 18 Mar 2003
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 01, 2011 7:03 pm    Post subject: Watchmen Haters.... Reply with quote

Here's a paper I did on the music

Questions of Power

The overt question of the graphic novel Watchmen and the film of the same name is from Juvenal’s Satires: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies” (“Who watches the watchmen?”). Not only does it appear at the end of the graphic novel in Latin, but it is rendered in English as graffiti in both versions of the story. What may not be so clear is how the music provides commentary on a more subtle aspect of power. One of the most poignant scenes that underscores this point involves the character Adrian Veidt and group of executives from the automotive and oil industries (so surmised by dialogue and Lee Iacocca as the only named character). When the party moves into the reception area of Veidt’s office, an almost imperceptible easy listening version of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” plays in the background. Veidt is planning on releasing a technology to give free energy to the world and the others do not want him to. In the face of the conflict in capital power the two sides represent, the music matches the subtle tones not only of the war of words but also the impact of hidden identities.

Watchmen’s first ten minutes is almost entirely set to music. Both scenes within this sequence provide the back story while also informing the audience on the tale that will unfold on the screen. The murder of the Comedian is set to Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” that starts diegetically as part of an advertisement for a perfume marketed by Veidt Industries before flaring up and drowning out most of the sound from the struggle presented on the screen. Indeed, the murder is the focal point to the story in its revelatory power of character relationships and the power struggle between Veidt and the captains of industry in his office; as such, the murder looms large throughout the narrative before Veidt is revealed as the killer near the film’s climax. The following scene establishes the setting as an alternate world where, in November 1985, Nixon has been elected to his third term, the looming energy crisis places the US and Soviet Union on the brink of nuclear war. The reality shift is explained via forty-five years of history compressed into a montage set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A-Changin’.” The images show the rise and fall of masked heroes and villains, political turmoil (Kent State shootings, for example) necessary to summarize the plot and overt support of the question of power the film explores.

The songs are thus used as indicators of power struggles and/or transfers at stake. The Comedian is a very right-winged figure who looks to the past. The perfume advertised when the home invasion begins is called Nostalgia. Like the captains of industry who attempt to persuade Veidt, the Comedian is a relic of the past who causes others to look back as well (all further scenes with him are as others’ memories). The overwhelming display of personae, or masks, draws the greatest attention (Veidt is the former masked hero Ozymandias). Just like one’s eyes, the ears have become attuned to overt messages when Veidt, who has been called earlier the world’s smartest man by the Comedian, informs his interlocutors that the only person he can relate to is Alexander the Great, the conversation drowns out the easy listening rendition of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” For that is what is at stake not only in the scene, but in the film. Ozymandias is paving the way to a world of his making that plays by his rules.

At this point in the film there is nothing concrete that points towards Veidt as a villainous figure, yet with all of the overt musical clues, why is this scene’s musical accompaniment turned way down? In “Ideology and the Practice of Sound Editing and Mixing,” Mary Ann Doane notes “one goes to ‘see’ a film and not to hear it” (54). It is little wonder that one would miss this particular musical comment based on this comment; however, it would be disingenuous to leave the argument at this juncture as even the burial scene for the Comedian is set to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” to reinforce the notion that dead men take their secrets to the grave. William Phillips posits in Film: An Introduction that “filmmakers sometimes use music – knowingly or not – to distract viewers from a weak part of the script or to enhance a performance” (175). In this instance, the volume is turned down not to distract but to hide the power struggle and Veidt’s own aspirations of conquest. The lack of volume only underscores how little notice corporate power shifts are registered and received.

“Unforgettable” and “The Times They are A-Changin’” also add to the foreshadowing and ongoing commentary of the diegetic world. As previously mentioned, the Comedian is a central reference point, which renders him as someone who cannot be forgotten. The montage that follows his death may reference forty-five years of history, but the lyrics of the song bespeak of the changes that are taking place in the film’s present. Both songs, then, have direct bearing on Veidt’s confrontation with other CEOs in that his true character is revealed. The subtlety of the Tears for Fears song in this context becomes truly unforgettable as the audience reflects back on this scene to understand that it is here that marks another change in the story world even if it does not fully register on the conscious level. Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias is the true villain of the story, who in an amoral manner, plots to bring about peace through a horrifying instance of mass exterminations triggered by one man. As Phillips states, “viewers tend not to notice and not to appreciate the soundtrack” (157). Turning down the sound of a rendition of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” without lyrics makes it all the more difficult to identify as it blends into the background to add credence to the diegetic space of a corporate lobby unless the film is played at a high volume.

Like the film moir-esque Rorschach, the audience has to work to uncover the clues that would reveal the foreshadowing and ongoing readings of songs from previous scenes into those that follow. Veidt’s meeting with the CEOs is already laden with expository dialogue about the former superhero’s objectives. This brings up another reason why one of the most powerful men in the world’s conflict has an almost imperceptible musical component: interiority. Doane clams that “The Hollywood sound film operates within an oscillation between two poles of realism: that of the psychological (or the interior) and that of the visible (or the exterior)” (59). The use of “Unforgettable” and “The Times They are A-Changin’” reflects the visual elements of Watchmen: the murder is exciting and violent, the montage compressed and expositional. The quiescence of the Tears for Fears song, then, is meant to appear seamless with the environment that speaks volumes about the inner thoughts of a character whose words deflect scrutiny from his erstwhile ulterior motives for releasing a free energy technology as a method to diffuse the cold war tensions that threaten to bring down a rain of nuclear fire. Veidt’s office and lobby, therefore, are extensions of his mind. Rendering a song about power any louder would needlessly belabor the point already established.

Another thing the Tears for Fears’ song helps establish has less to do with the film itself than the era in which it is set. The song was released in 1985, the year in which the film is set. Also, Watchmen is a commentary on American culture of the 1980s. What better way to relate the intertextual aspect of the film’s own portrayal of an era of greed than with a song that has become synonymous with the attitudes of the decade in question? The soundtrack is quite potent in how it works to capture the 80s. Claudia Gorman observes that “diegetic music fleshes out film space, and variable in recording, mixing, and volume levels further determine the quality, the ‘feel,’ or framed/lived space in a given film” (25). In effect, that is exactly what the soundtrack does. The commoditization of music to promote a product that hearkens back to a time when masked heroes were construed as legitimate authorities is linked by the advertisements for the Nostalgia perfume. Veidt also markets a line of toys of the Watchmen, repackaging the image of his former allies into a commodity. Both instances are visual representations of what the music encapsulates regarding the 80s and the present (the marketing of the graphic novel as a film) as the past transformed into products for consumption. The theater and the diegetic space are thus promulgated with purchasable goods.

Veidt is a marketing genius who has conflated image and wealth. He is also the self-actualized, self-made man, something that the Tears for Fears song alludes to. There is no need for the lyrics as the walking advertisement of the decade of personal ambition asserts himself with ease. He has surround himself with the trappings of the Pharonic era, goes by the Greek name of Ramses as a superhero, named his Antarctic base Karnak. Veidt doesn’t need anyone, to quote the song, “help [him] to decide / help [him] make the most / of freedom and of pleasure.” Veidt makes it perfectly clear when he tells the CEOs he does not need their cooperation to bring about his changes as his wealth alone is enough to buy out their corporations “three times over”. Veidt is a power unto himself who controls and markets his persona while financing the weapons that will change the world and the equipment to rebuild it, revealing how much power he wields.

The moral ambiguity implied in Veidt’s actions as hero turned villain speaks to hidden identities. The barely there, stripped-down version of a staple of 80s synth-pop blending into the background mirrors the secrets of Veidt. Where most of the film’s soundtrack is at the audible level, the lack of volume is what makes the moment all the more important. It is not that the confrontation is sans music, it is the muted intensity of the event that emphasizes the question of power in the struggle that is important. Veidt’s threats to change the world are not hollow or corporate posturing. The answer of who eventually wins is never in doubt, what may not be clear at the moment is who has the will to do so. Sonic cues point to a clear choice, but at a critical juncture anything more than a whisper would ruin the illusion – both diegetically and nondiegetically – just like any carefully constructed commodity.

Works Cited

Doane, Mary Ann. “Ideology and the Practice of Sound Editing and Mixing.” Film Sound:
Theory and Practice. Eds. Elisabeth Weis and John Belton. New York: Columbia UP,
1985. 54-61.

Gorbman, Claudia. Unheard Melodies. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana UP, 1987.

Phillips, William. "Sound." Film: An Introduction. New York: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2009.

Tears for Fears. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-
92). Mercury, 1992. CD.

Watchmen. Dir. Zack Snyder. Perf. Malin Akerman, Billy Crudrup, Matthew Goode, Jackie
Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson. Warner Bros., Paramount, 2009.
Greatest quote eva:
Vertigo21 wrote:

Shit man, I can barely make a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich. I can't make a watch.
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