Article

Music video, songs, sound: Experience, technique and emotion in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Abstract

A close reading of Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine will show that music video directors bring to the cinema not only fancy editing, nor simply a special way of handling film-sound and music, but something more: a way of assembling material in general. Music video is a musical form. Videos often reflect a song's form and pick up on specific melodic, rhythmic and timbral features. The image can even seem to imitate sonic properties like ebb, flow and indeterminacy of boundaries. Music video stylistics transferable to cinema include unusual representations of time, space and causality, an emphasis on texture, color and mood, as well as a highlighting of ephemerality, process, and condensation. How does Eternal Sunshine create its structure, and sense of musicality? Lacunae in the story, built up through a bewildering number of flashbacks as well as process-oriented and mood-based events, make a space for the soundtrack. Alongside these lacunae are carefully refined structures. These include connections between shots based on visual or aural associations, and short sequences that undergo repetition and intensification. At least thirty visual motifs — like the skeleton posada figures, lamps, and hair dye — crisscross the film, playing a variety of roles. These motifs and the lattices that hold them are structured to connect with the soundtrack in an intimate fashion. The film's soundtrack contains much music. But even when music is absent, the dialogue and environmental sounds are designed to work musically. In Eternal Sunshine, a latticework of sound-image relations help to create new kinds of characterization, affect and story. A prismatic style, based on intensified continuity, is becoming a shared global phenomenon. Bordwell provides a good description of this new “amped-up…higher pitched” filmmaking aesthetic, but he only discusses visual parameters. Through an attention to the soundtrack and the image, my analysis is one of the first to describe how these new films can hold together.

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