In the Southbank Centre of London, just across the Thames from Big Ben and Parliament, there is a local hotspot thriving with London summer life. From the summer festival to the market, to the London Theater, Londoners and tourists alike see the overwhelming amounts of visual life that the city creates, evolves, and perpetuates on its own.
Specifically, the British Film Institute (BFI) theater, with a modern flare, lends itself to all eras of visual excellence. Dr. Nericcio, several students, and I traveled by tube and foot to reach the theater where they were playing a newly revised movie edition of one of the most iconic bands of all time who have made a major impact, not only on music, but also upon the concepts of visual and pop culture, world-wide. This band is the Beatles. We watched their first film, A Hard Day’s Work.
So how does this renowned film attribute to the world of visual? While the emphasis is on sound, the Beatles are also revered for their unique sense of style from writing their own lyrics, to sporting the shaggy hair look. This band stands as timeless and influential. As I was watching the film (for the first time), I was noting the songs they chose to play and how they filmed them. The visual techniques that they employ in the film illustrate the importance visual plays in the overall influence and effect of audio.
It appears that the Beatles set the tone for how music videos would evolve over time. Although in recent times, the emphasis of the “new,” the “unique,” or the quality of the music, has faded and instead, the new focus of emphasis for the music video industry is about the “fame and the name.” I’ve noticed a trend of popular, mainstream artists singing their own names in the beginning, middle, or ends of their songs. Reflect for a moment with me. Consider, just a few years ago, Miley Cyrus’s song, “See You Again.” She sings, “Felt Like I couldn’t breathe/You asked what’s wrong with me/My best friend Leslie said, ‘Oh she’s just being Miley.’” Singers like Lady Gaga, Enrique Iglesias, Jason Derulo, Iggy Azalea, to the list goes on and on, rap, sing, or say their name in some form in their music. It’s more about who the music represents and the outrageousness of the video than it is simply about the sound and feel of the music. The visual has overtaken the auditory world—forcing its influences upon audio.
And, it appears, this concept is inescapable. While music is a highly audible profession and talent, it also employs many visual elements. Consider the look of the instrument, and the look of the movements of the instruments. Strings vibrate; drum sticks are thrown up and down and spun around; and piano keys move up and down, just to illustrate a few. Movement and vision are vital in knowing how to hear music. The Beatles articulate this beautifully in their film, by angling shots on the instruments and the men’s faces as they sing. The difference between how the Beatles paired audio and visual is quite evident in contrast to today’s mainstream videos. The focus is on the “created” identity of the singer, on selling sex, and buying drugs—there has been a shift on how the world views music. Yet, other music videos represent the genius of music well and, arguably, the excellence of today’s music videos began evolving with influence from the Beatles.
Commentary by Ciera Heimbigner
Cinetrek 1: A Hard Day's Night at the BFI