In the Scholes and Wulfman chapter “Modernism in the Magazines: The Case of Visual Art,.” the authors discuss the nature of framing in artwork. In particular, they cite the example of paintings; one gets different impressions of the same image between a reprinted painting versus its original counterpart, or variances in lighting, or the attitude of the surrounding crowd upon viewing. The authors state: “we are following John Berger's arguments in Ways of Seeing to point out that framing, captioning, hanging position, and surrounding works all affect our perception of any particular work of art, and that time itself works crucial change as well” (76-7). In the case of Man Ray's short film“L'Étoile de Mer,” what I noticed more than anything else in its framework was the musical score.
In comparison to his artwork published in transition, for example, the soundtrack adds an additional element to process while watching“L'Étoile de Mer.” Though this film was released in 1928, the soundtrack was not added until later, by a composer by the name of Paul Mercer (who is cited in the credits). I did a little digging and found out from his personal website that he is a contemporary violinist and composer. According to his bio, “in a modern turn, he has created new soundtracks for old silent films being preserved on dvd, including several avant-garde films of the 1920s and 1930s by F. Leger and Man Ray.” I found myself focusing on the music quite a bit, especially when Man Ray had viewers looking at the same image (such as the starfish underwater from 0:45-0:55, and later from ) for a prolonged period of time. This begs the question: why the use of a newer composition instead of music from that time period? Composers such as Béla Bartok, Gustav Holst, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, and Igor Stravinsky, to name a few, were debuting some of their most famous works in the 1920's (examples of some of these pieces can be found on the links). Additionally, the music of artists such as Irving Berlin and Al Jolson were wildly popular, so the question remains: why add a soundtrack of new music, and not music from the actual time period? Would that not be more historically accurate?
The music itself is provided by, as far as I can tell, a string quartet. The composition relies on overlaying chord suspensions, especially between the upper and lower strings, that add an element of mystery to the otherwise-silent medium. Mercer additionally takes advantage of a variety of string effects such as tremolo, ponticello, and sur la touche to achieve this – these are all effects that also appear in, and were popularized by, the composers I previously mentioned. “L'Étoile de Mer's” soundtrack is a more minimalist reduction of the more symphonic works, but also has a definitively contemporary feel to it, therefore changing the overall effect of the work.
The reason I question this is due to our focus on context: like our focus on the once-disregarded advertisements that appeared alongside content from James Joyce and Ezra Pound, the ability to add music to a previously silent medium adds an additional layer of context to it, therefore modifying its original content. In this particular case, the music is more current: does this change the experience for the viewer? In my opinion, yes. It would be similar to, for example, if transition were to feature advertisements from contemporary publishers, but done in an avant garde style – the impact is different on modern readers than its original (and probably intended) context.