Panel about The Children Next Door

On its 10th anniversary

Back in 2012, I had the great pleasure to work on a documentary film titled The Children Next Door. I joined the project to initially as music supervisor: to collaborate on sound design and oversee the hiring of a proper composer.

We eventually brought on the incredibly talented Taylor Deupree, of the 12k record label. The resulting film, from director Doug Block and producer Lynda Hansen, is a complex story about the survivors of domestic violence. This Thursday, October 27 (6:00-7:30pm ET), Doug and Lynda will participate in a panel discussion, titled “Filming with Traumatized Participants,” on the occasion of the movie’s 10th anniversary re-release. They’ll be joined by two members of the family that was the focus of The Children Next Door, Penny and Chelsea Waldroup, along with advocate Margie Ratliff (daughter of convicted murderer Michael Peterson, and herself a subject of both the true-crime documentary The Staircase and Subject, a documentary about participants in such documentaries).

Needless to say, audio will not be the focus of the October 27 discussion, but I’m proud of this film, and wanted to mention the event. I’ll definitely be attending. A Q&A will follow the discussion.

The October 27 online event is free. Just register online and you’ll get a Zoom link in return.

The film (which, I must warn you, is a tough watch) is available to screen for free through November 6 at showandtell.film.

The Sound of Michael Mann

And an upcoming feature film

I’ll read anything about Michael Mann, so, clearly, I’ll be reading the upcoming Heat 2 (!) novel (!!), co-written with Meg Gardiner. I love that this lengthy New York Times interview gets into the role of sound in Mann’s productions, for film and TV alike.

Pinned to a wall behind him were several images of vintage Ferraris painted different screaming reds. He’d tasked his crew with making full-body 3-D scans of these vehicles, crafting perfect facsimile shells and fitting these with contemporary drivetrains capable of high-performance racing. Special recordings, Mann said, would capture the engine sound of period-accurate “small-displacement V12s running very high, this shriek, driving down narrow canyons through masonry, then suddenly they’re out in an open field.” He smiled. “It’ll feel like the air is being ripped apart.”

More from the Times article, written by Jonah Weiner. It’s mostly about Mann’s upcoming movie, Ferrari (a biopic I’d otherwise pay close to zero attention to, but, you know, it’s Michael Mann).

[Christopher] Nolan calls “Heat” Mann’s masterpiece, and when we spoke, he singled out a “tiny detail during the bank robbery, where the money is stacked and wrapped in plastic, and they put it into the duffel bags, then use a razor to slash the plastic and bang it, so that it comes loose and takes the shape of the bag.” This moment flies by, but it “grounds the entire robbery in a technical reality that you respect and enjoy,” Nolan said. “You feel you’re watching a film about experts made by experts.” The sequence’s most indelible aspect is its terrifying sound. Mann recorded the gunfire — “full-load” blanks, containing the same powder charge as live ammo — not on a soundstage, as is common practice, but out on the streets, as it reverberated off the sunny steel-and-glass canyons onscreen.

I wrote a short appreciation of Thief in 2019 for hilobrow.com, and followed that up with a close listen to his feature debut, a TV movie called The Jericho Mile.

Back to Gattaca

Andrew Niccol's masterpiece

Watched Gattaca for the first time in forever and it’s an even better movie than I’d recalled — a movie where its economical use of locations is matched by its tightly scripted approach. Bonus points for the Michael Nyman score.

Speaking of Nyman, extra bonus points for a peek into the alternate ways that post-human life has been designed in the world of Gattaca. It’s not all cool-as-cucumber starship navigators.

The Prestige Quote

Magic meets transcription

So, about the quote from The Prestige that inspired the week’s Disquiet Junto project. In brief: transcribing it is complicated. I love the description that opens the movie, which was directed by Christopher Nolan. I’d listen to Michael Caine read the phone book. Better yet for him to intone sagaciously on the trappings of magic. Listen here in this clip of the film’s first few minutes:


The thing is, the quote is widely mis-transcribed. A lot of transcriptions insert the word “great” early on. I hear it quite clearly as “Every magic trick consists of three parts.” But there are numerous instances in which it’s presented as “Every great magic trick consists of three parts.” Most of these seem copied and pasted.

Weirder still, a large number of these appearances online of the quote attribute the overall statement not to the 2006 movie, but to Christopher Priest, who wrote the novel, published in 1995, that inspired the movie. The text spoken by Michael Caine does not appear in the book. There is a sequence like it in the book, but it is worded quite differently.

Here is the movie version of the “Prestige quote” on Goodreads, which is a website of books, not of movies, nonetheless attributed to Priest: goodreads.com. (While not as egregious, the mistake feels a bit like Costanza’s failed end run around actually reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) And here’s an explanation about TED Talks that uses The Prestige as a model, and attributes the quote to Priest: medium.com. I suppose the tweet thread where this post originated was my TED Talk. :)

So, Priest didn’t write the text, and “great” doesn’t even appear in the movie where the text is spoken aloud.

It’s very Christopher Nolan that there would be an error within an error in plain sight around the world.

Again, I’d listen to Michael Caine read anything, and listening to him speak this text is a masterclass (as distinct from a TED Talk) in making someone else’s text one’s own (in this case: someone else’s text based on someone else’s text). When I re-transcribed it for this week’s Disquiet Junto project, using the widely re-posted “Goodreads version” as my template, I paid attention to each pause, each transition. Some of the pauses signaled em-dashes, one an ellipsis. Distinctions needed to be made for how Caine speaks, versus how Nolan breaks up the speech with brief snippets of imagery. Some are pauses of utterance, while others are more akin to hitting pause.

And sometimes I really couldn’t quite tell what was said. That’s the thing about speaking. It’s like a trick, like magic. You can say two words at once. You can say a word in a way that suggests another word, layers them. You can hint at a word, and then change direction. You can say a familiar word, but mean it different from how it appears on the page. You and I might do these things by instinct as much as by mistake. When Michael Caine does it, it’s … well, it’s just amazing, right? It’s a mastery of phrasing. The way he pauses before “or a man” is mastery. Had Caine done nothing else in his career, I think that pause would have earned him his knighthood. (Not that I’m into knighthoods or regal pageantry, which is why I haven’t called him Sir here.)

So, do listen through the audio. Listen to the micro-utterances, the granular nuances. While doing so 20 or 30 times over the course of a day and a half, I thought a lot about Ethan Hein’s writing about the tuning of voices in rap, the expressiveness of tiny shifts and pauses.

You may hear the text different from how I do. You might transcribe the opening speech of The Prestige differently to match what you hear. For example, I’m not sure Caine says “unaltered.” He may say “not altered.” I’m pretty sure it’s “unaltered.” It’s sort of both. That’s the art of it. In other words, that’s the magic of it.

Disquiet Junto Project 0489: The Prestige

The Assignment: Apply some magic to ABA form.

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate. (A SoundCloud account is helpful but not required.) There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is the end of the day Monday, May 17, 2021, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0489: The Prestige
Assignment: Apply some magic to ABA form.

Thanks to Disquiet Junto member rbxbx for proposing this.

Step 1: There’s a now famous quote from the opening of the 2006 film The Prestige. It goes as follows. Give it a read:

“Every magic trick consists of three parts — or acts. The first part is called the Pledge. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird, or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it — to see if it is, indeed, real. You know: unaltered, normal. But of course … it probably isn’t. The second act is called the Turn. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now, you’re looking for the secret, but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call the Prestige.”

Step 2: This arc, moving from Pledge to Turn to Prestige, can be read as a take on the classic ABA structure, in which a theme is introduced, then something else occurs, and then the piece returns to where it began.

Step 3: Compose and record a piece of music that takes the process described in The Prestige as its blueprint.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0489” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your tracks.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0489” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation of a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your tracks. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your tracks.

Step 4: Post your tracks in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0489-the-prestige/

Step 5: Annotate your tracks with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: If posting on social media, please consider using the hashtag #disquietjunto so fellow participants are more likely to locate your communication.

Step 7: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Additional Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is the end of the day Monday, May 17, 2021, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

Length: The length of your finished track is up to you. Listening can be deceiving.

Title/Tag: When posting your tracks, please include “disquiet0489” in the title of the tracks, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Download: It is always best to set your track as downloadable and allowing for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution, allowing for derivatives).

For context, when posting the track online, please be sure to include this following information:

More on this 489th weekly Disquiet Junto project — The Prestige (Assignment: Apply some magic to ABA form) — at: https://disquiet.com/0488/

More on the Disquiet Junto at: https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here: https://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co: https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0489-the-prestige/

There’s also a Disquiet Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet for Slack inclusion.