Professor Justin Pfefferle
English 288 (01)
23 November 2016
Ever since the introduction of synchronous sound in the 1920s, films have strived to create a largely synchronous experience. When one hears asynchronous sound, it is mostly seen as a glitch in the viewing experience. The buffering of the video sound becomes delayed and out of sync with what is visibly on screen. That is not to say that asynchronous sound is not sometimes an intentional act in film. Films like Singin’ in the Rain use asynchronous sound for comedic effect within the film. For my project I have elected to play a movie in an almost completely asynchronous experience. The line “I open at the close” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 698) has special significance in Harry Potter, and, to pay homage to this, I have elected to play the last Harry Potter movie with the soundtrack of the first Harry Potter movie. I’m attempting to metaphorically create this same loop through my viewing experience.
Armed with nothing more than my wits, a pen, some paper, and a couple of friends willing to be my guinea pigs, I set out to mess with a beloved franchise in a way that I had never considered.
Part of Harry Potter is the magic you feel while watching the movie. Nothing makes me quite as nostalgic as hearing Hedwig’s Theme; however, the tune takes on a rather unnerving and ominous feel when paired with the imagery of Voldemort appearing on screen. The acousmatic song, which is a sound played without its accompanying source onscreen (Chion 71), becomes rather terrifying. Suddenly the beloved happy soundtrack reminiscent of childhood has synced up with a much darker subject matter. This was a similar feel to horror movies which use childish music paired with violent imagery to convey a rather creepy tone. This rather dramatic collision set a rather ominous tone for the beginning of my viewing experience.
Not all of this alt viewing experience involved creepy moments; in fact certain moments caused great hilarity. In one particularly memorable moment, the now adult onscreen Harry opened his mouth and appeared to be lecturing his friends with the voice of Minerva McGonagall. At other times the off screen voices would seem to be contributing to the action occurring onscreen: for example the three headed dog Fluffy was being discussed at the same time as one of Voldemort’s horcruxes was destroyed and created a three headed cloud of smoke. Another instance was when the characters discussed how Harry couldn’t play Quidditch for a while as we watched the onscreen Quidditch pitch go up in flames. These moments of seeming synchronicity could cause hilarity like in the above cases or sadness like in a particular tragic moment in which the words “and the bad” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001) were paired with the onscreen image of Dobby’s tombstone.
Hearing the 11 year old Harry talk at the same time as his now much older counterpart was vaguely eerie but also rather adorable. Moments like these existed with other characters and formed a temporary diegetic experience as the sound being produced seemed to originate from the onscreen characters, albeit a much younger version of themselves. It was as if the two movies lined up to form moments of “visualized sound” (Chion 72). It was as if the voices truly seemed to emanate from their visible selves.
Rewatching a series I love in this manner was interesting in the sense that I have seen both films far more than any sane person would likely do, and could thereby follow the two separate plots occurring in both films. There were also moments within the two that completed the other film; for example, early on in the alt viewing experience I heard Voldemort storm the room and kill Harry’s parents, and later in the viewing experience I saw the outcome of this act from Snape’s perspective. I had succeeded in making the franchise come full circle on itself. This works well with the quote that inspired my viewing experience. The original Harry Potter book was released around the same time that the events in the final installment of the series took place. It isn’t merely a linking of time but also one of importance for other reasons. The Harry Potter franchise has a large amount of puzzle pieces that it introduces within the first film that do not truly come to light until the final film. The quote “I open at the close” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 698) is inscribed upon a snitch in the last part of the series. This same snitch is the one that Harry caught in his very first Quidditch game. He is given this in Dumbledore’s will after his death, and hidden within the snitch is the resurrection stone. It allows Harry to temporarily bring some of the deceased characters back to life in order to support him on his final path to face off against Lord Voldemort. I attempted to do something similar by reviving dead characters in a very different way. Although certain characters had died onscreen they were still alive and preserved within the audio of the film. For example the voice of Fred Weasley who passes away in the series’ final installment can be heard long after his onscreen death.
Overall I think I achieved what I had initially set out to do: I made the movies loop in on themselves, I created moments of hilarity and sadness, and I managed to come out with an even greater love for the franchise.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog post.
Chion, Michel. Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. Translated by Claudia Gorbman, Columbia UP, 1994.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Dir. David Yates. Warner Bros., 2011. Film.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Dir. Chris Columbus. Warner Bros., 2001. Film.
Rowling, J.K.. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Scholastic Inc., 2007.