Aaron Smith’s Response Journal


The Singing Detective Video Essay

During the first week of class, we talked about how in time based media, the beginning of a project teaches the audience how to read it. My video essay attempts to re-cut the first five minutes of The Singing Detective so that we are taught how to read the series in a different way.

In the first five minutes of the original text, the dark city setting, the stylized emphasis on shadows, the ominous music, and the introduction of clues (the Skinskapes coin) all cue the audience to expect a film noir detective genre. By cutting between the Singing Detective and Marlowe in the hospital, the film asks us to apply the genre conventions of the film noir detective story to Marlowe’s experiences. We must examine (as Marlowe does) the clues from Marlowe’s past to discover their significance. It is an introspective, psychoanalytic detective story.

My re-cut attempts to present this idea in a faster and more explicit manner. The first musical number introduces Marlowe’s subjectivity and the text’s genre play. Musical outbursts are not wishful expressions of desire, but unwanted, terrifying hallucinations, later involving suppressed memories. Like the musical numbers, much of Marlowe’s childhood memories cannot be controlled. The only way to stop them is to think about the Singing Detective, but even that story incorporates the characters and feelings of the past.

In my video, I’ve attempted to introduce the various levels of narrative from the very beginning. The viewer may have no idea what is going on, but one thing is clear: it’s all coming from Marlowe. Marlowe is as confused as we are, but he has made his decision to figure all the clues out (as evident by calling himself the Singing Detective) and accept his unconscious hallucinations as part of the process. Thus, I would say my re-cut informs us how to read the text much sooner. It quickly shows us that there will be scattered clues throughout this work, from various narrative levels, and that we must collect, aggregate, and signify them to find any answers.

Thinking on it now, I probably would have included more images from Marlowe’s past (not just mostly audio from it), such as Marlowe in the classroom and in the forest, to be shown during the musical and film noir scenes. This would further illustrate the interconnectedness of these three mental narratives going on in Marlowe’s head and accentuate the idea that Marlowe (and the viewer) must sort it all out.

Why does it matter how soon you understand how to read the text? Because in television, the viewer must know what to expect or they will quick change the channel. Think about Pushing Daisies, from very early on we know it’s a fairy tale story. The more a show puts off revealing what genre or type of narrative it is, the more a viewer will lose patience. In this way, I’ve designed my re-cut to fit a more traditional television model (despite deviating from it with its subject matter). By the opening credits, the viewer understands that this is going to be a puzzle involving genres and narrative devices that they have never seen before. Hopefully, after these first five minutes, diving into the mind of Phillip Marlowe might seem like an appealing investment.

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