One of my favorite blogs, Cognitive Daily, is launching a new feature, Cognitive Monthly, which features a long single-subject article. They’re hoping you’ll like the article enough to contribute a small fee.
The first month’s entry is about a subject that relates peripherally to something I discuss briefly in Traffic; i.e., the relationship between the way we see the world and how that world is captured in film (and by the way there’s another great NYAS event forthcoming this week that deals with that very topic). The piece is titled “The Illusion of Theater” and it, in their words, “covers the remarkable science behind what theatrical professionals seem, to laypeople, to do intuitively: create an environment that encourages us to believe that what we see on stage is a true representation of reality.”
In any case, here’s a sample of what the kind of stuff you’ll find in the piece:
How exactly does the music affect perception of a scene? In 2000, Marilyn Boltz conducted an extensive study to try to answer that question. Boltz wanted to know whether music alone could change the way viewers thought about a scene in a film, and furthermore, whether it could actually affect viewers’ memory later on. She showed viewers three ambiguous scenes, from Cat People, Vertigo, and the TV show The Hitchhiker, and played either “positive,” “negative,” or no music to accompany the scenes.
Boltz found that when viewers watched Malcolm McDowell and Nastassia Kinski talk in a benign scene from Cat People accompanied by positive music, they saw McDowell primarily as “kind/caring,” “loving,” or “playful.” When the negative music was played, he became “crazy/deranged,” “evil,” manipulative,” “controlling /possessive,” and “mysterious” (and this is without seeing him turn into a black leopard and rip someone’s arm off). When asked to predict what would happen next, viewers who had never seen the film and who saw the version with positive music (“Blossom Meadow” by George Winston) thought that McDowell and Kinski would have a happy life together and possibly fall in love.
Viewers who instead saw a version with negative music (from Rubycon by Tangerine Dream — of Risky Business fame) thought McDowell would “harm,” “kill,” or “do supernatural harm” to Kinski. The results were similar for scenes from Vertigo and The Hitchhiker. So music matters, whether we’re watching a bad ’80s HBO series or a Hitchcock classic—or a play by the son of a tenant farmer
in central England.