Sunday, 27 January 2013

Lip Synching - Southland Tales - Timberlake/Killers

I'm a little pre-occupied with this film and Shaviro's excellent commentary on it. I won't talk about the post-cinematic - flat ontology aspects, Shaviro has that down.... but listening to Freya Jarman speak last night it occurred to me that this scene accommodates all 3 queer lip-synching types...... that it does not sit squarely in just one, but, oddly, across all 3.....

Jarman talked of the types of lip-synching and identification modes that evoke either abject, queer or comic effects. These were:

1 - Identification - see Bridget Jones
2 - Identity Play - see this below (just too good not to embed)


3 'Worn'  - see Gael Garcia Bernal

As I understand the three types, or as I interpret them, I see three things.

The first is strictly intensive. Identification is an acutely internal operation - the identification with the voice, becoming an other, transforming - is all turned inwards. Any animation, is for the lip-syncher to convince their own mind that they are the singer - that it is their voice. Bridget enacts the singer to convince her self she is is the singer, her eyes are closed so she doesn't see the familiar site of her room. It is a form of escapism.

Identity play is similar but turned inside out. The character Will Smith plays cannot tell his uncle how he feels in his words - in his identity. So the way to do this is to take on another identity. However, the process is not focused on merely an internal identification transformation but importantly on a hyper-reflexive identity projection. It is not just the sonic words that are not his body is given over to the singer - he splays his fingers suggestively over his body, he struts and pouts like a diva in a way his character never would ordinarily. This is all to project another identity.

'Worn' is similar again, in that the crux of identity shift lies in the body, the physical body. But because Gael Garcia Bernal is in drag (an almost uber-drag, a dragX2 - with a dress that actually depicts a womans body) he can leave his eyes open, stay still and lip synch the words. He doesn't need to close his eyes and become the singer, he doesn't need to strut and pout to convince his listener/audience because all the visible aspects of identity in regard to his body are already in hand - they are transformed by the dress, the wig and his make-up.

I feel these 3 degrees of identity adoption - intensive/internally focused, extensive/reflexive and aesthetic/worn/prosthetic are degrees of manifestations of the vocalic body. To summarise briefly one could say the vocalic body is the imaginary body a voice has in its sound, in its grain. As Connor comments:

"What kind of thing is a vocalic body? What sort of vocalic bodies are there? Such bodies are not fixed and finite, nor are they summarizable in the form of a typology, precisely because they are always able to imagine and enact new forms of voice body. The leading characteristic of the voice-body is to be a body-in-invention, an impossible, imaginary body in the course of being found and formed."

This is, perhaps, where the oddness in finally hearing David Beckham's voice or Elizabeth Hurley's voice arrives - from the difference between a famous, appreciated body - and a sonic sound with it's own - autonomous corporeality. As Connor comments:

".voice then conjures for itself a different kind of body; an imaginary body which may contradict, compete with, replace or even reshape the actual, visible body of the speaker"

Syles of lip-synching are, perhaps, modes of the vocalic body manifesting either internally for type 1 or externally in types 2 and 3. It is this triplet of identity shifting operations that I feel are all present in the Justin Timberlake / The Killers lip synch music video scene in Kelly's Southland Tales. It is an internal scene first, Private Abilene is high on fluid karma and hallucinating, he is escaping from himself - the diegetic is already in his head, we are seeing how he sees his present identity under the influence of a drug. But the body extensive is also shown to the viewer within this intensive diegetic, he struts like a rock star should - by seeing his intensive imagining, his internal identity shift we see a simultaneous manifestation of types 1 and 2. We know it's all in his mind and yet we still see that his body is dancing in all the right ways. The third aspect, the 'worn', is manifested in the acting as coat approach to celebrities portraying characters. We know that it is Justin Timberlake (just as Dwayne Johnson is always acting Dwayne Johnson - case in point, check out the Johnny Depp finger acting in almost every scene! Avatars of playing acting.), we cannot forget this, it is futile to think we can ever really detach such a celebrity from a film, his celebrity is always bigger than the film. So Kelly directs him to wear a character, he wears a scar and a bloodied t-shirt so we know it is Justin-Timberlake-in-a-film instead of Justin Timberlake. This feels similar to the Gael Garcia Bernal drag act in Bad Education, we know it is the character underneath the clothes, but the appearance, doubled with the voice means that even though we know who it is we know that they expect us to accept that they are not in their usual identity.

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