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Re: Put Your Voice Where Your Mouth Is
On Dec 29, 2004, at 8:46 AM, Richard Zvonar wrote:
> At 9:38 AM -0700 12/29/04, Krispen Hartung wrote:
> Too bad we can't read this without signing up as a member for the New
> York Times. Can you copy the text into an email to the group. Not
> I can't signup, but it's sort of a pain for one article.
> Really? It wasn't that way previously. In fact, just last week I sent
> TImes links to some people without problems.
It's been that way for years, afaik
> Here's the text:
> Put Your Voice Where Your Mouth Is
> By GARY GIDDINS
> Published: December 29, 2004
> ASHLEE SIMPSON got caught with her microphone down on "Saturday Night
> Live" in October, and five weeks later, on Dec. 5, "Good Morning
> America," which had been especially gleeful in its post-mortem of the
> debacle, presented Lindsay Lohan in a "live singing debut"-
> lip-syncing just like Ms. Simpson. Good thing this was a slow news
> year so that the press could pay suitable attention to a cultural
> issue that has shocked many Americans over the age of 16. Forget the
> occupation of Iraq, the burgeoning debt, the war over values, and the
> passion of the Christ: this was the year we were obliged to face up to
> the fact that show business is show business.
> Among other performers accused of moving their lips while a machine
> does the labor are Britney Spears, Luciano Pavarotti, Shania Twain,
> Beyoncé and Madonna. (One person who won't be accused of lip-syncing
> is Kevin Spacey, but everyone who has seen "Beyond the Sea" wishes he
> had.) As for performers who sing in tandem with prepared tapes or
> backup tracks, this page could no more contain their number than it
> could that of film actors with lasered body parts. It's a wonder
> anyone bothers to deny it. Back in February it was reported that fans
> of Ms. Spears prefer her to lip-sync - despite her denials of the
> practice - because they expect flawless digitalization when they pay
> serious money for a concert. Besides, as Ms. Simpson complained to
> Katie Couric on "Today," it's not like she engaged in anorexia or
> wardrobe malfunction.
> Indeed, the worse thing she did, beyond displaying an inability to
> ad-lib and the childlike inclination to blame others (many others) for
> her mishap, was to reveal that behind the curtain of contemporary show
> business is a man with his finger on a button. The father of modern
> entertainment was not P. T. Barnum, but Thomas Edison. We have been
> living in an increasingly lip-synced world for some 75 years, and we
> have yet to reach the bottom of a slippery slope. No profitable
> advance in technology has ever vanished, and this one is here to stay
> - along with miniature microphones on Broadway, fake laughter on
> television, computer-generated images in the movies and Donald Trump.
> You want reality? Go to a ballgame. Oh, right: forgot.
> Baby boomers who now shake their heads in dismay at what the world is
> coming to grew up with lip-syncing. On Dick Clark's "American
> Bandstand," there was no band and no bandstand, only the fear that the
> record might skip while a grinning performer gyrated, his or her lips
> moving as mutely as those of Steve Reeves in "Hercules." Old movies
> that were then a routine part of network television offered jokes and
> plots built on the deception of lip-syncing. In "Singin' in the Rain,"
> Jean Hagen is laughed out of the theater when the audience learns that
> she is mouthing Debbie Reynolds. In "Road to Morocco," Bing Crosby,
> Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour reluctantly lip-sync one another.
> Lip-syncing got its first and steadiest boost in Hollywood, shortly
> after the introduction of sound: in 1929, MGM prerecorded an intricate
> number, "The Wedding of the Painted Doll," for "The Broadway Melody."
> Most sound engineers regarded dubbing as undignified; they argued that
> music ought to be live, especially given the technological advances
> that allowed them to capture vocal nuance. They were overruled by
> three problems, all solved by lip-syncing.
> First, singing is physically constraining - a singer cannot maintain
> pitch and vibrato while leaping around a stage - and movies depend on
> movement. An example of that dilemma can be seen in the Marx Brothers
> first feature film, "The Cocoanuts," in which the romantic couple
> stops the film in its tracks in the seconds it takes them to draw a
> breath or summon the proper vocal mask.
> The second problem was one of economics. By lip-syncing musical
> numbers, the production did not have to install an orchestra on the
> set or worry about repeated takes or the noise made by crane shots. In
> 1930, Universal was frantic to stop the hemorrhaging of money in
> completing its revue, "The King of Jazz," featuring the bandleader
> Paul Whiteman. Whiteman suggested that the musical numbers be
> prerecorded; that way carpenters could hammer new sets while
> musicians, singers and dancers went through the motions on the ones
> already built.
> The studios invented and resolved the third problem when they realized
> that audiences didn't notice lip-syncing, let alone mind it. Producers
> reasoned that if actors could lip-sync themselves, they could just as
> easily lip-sync others. You want Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner but
> don't trust their singing? Bring in stunt-singers - like in "Singin'
> in the Rain." During the same year Whiteman was filming "King of
> Jazz," Duke Ellington introduced the song "Three Little Words" in the
> film "Check and Double Check," but the three musicians he assigned the
> vocal part weren't very good. So Ellington asked the director to hire
> the Rhythm Boys (the trio, with Bing Crosby, that Whiteman made
> famous). Since the film couldn't show a racially integrated ensemble -
> white singers in a black band - the Rhythm Boys stood behind a curtain
> with a microphone, while band members lip-synced them. How far a slide
> down the slippery slope is it from Audrey Hepburn pretending to sing
> in "My Fair Lady" to Milli Vanilli pretending to sing on their Grammy
> winning 1990 album, "Girl You Know It's True"?
> In 1946, Crosby revolutionized the entertainment world when he walked
> out on his NBC contract, which forbade him from prerecording his radio
> show. Crosby reasoned that taping a program would allow him to edit
> and perfect it; besides, he had prerecorded countless shows for the
> troops overseas and no one complained. The networks argued that
> audiences would never accept a canned show in a live medium. The
> networks, of course, were wrong. On one occasion, Crosby's engineers
> realized that the program was a minute or so short; one of them found
> a piece of tape with applause and laughter and suggested editing it in
> to fill the time. How far a slide is it from borrowed laughter to fake
> laughter to fake audiences?
> Crosby, paradoxically, was one of the few musical film stars who
> occasionally insisted on filming a song live. In Frank Capra's "Riding
> High" of 1950, Crosby had a complicated number, "Sunshine Cake,"
> involving Colleen Gray, Clarence Muse and lots of physical business,
> including Crosby playing spoons and Muse playing guitar. When you see
> the film you are really seeing those performers singing and dancing.
> Or are you? It happened that Muse could not play guitar or
> convincingly fake it, so for the close-ups they brought in a
> guitarist, Perry Botkin, and blacked up his hands. (Why they didn't
> hire a black guitarist is another story.) How far a slide is it from
> fake hands to a fake Fred Astaire vacuuming in a commercial to a fake
> cast in "The Polar Express"?
> We protest that live performance is different, the last bastion of
> reality. But we surrendered to illusion when we accepted amplification
> as a substitute for natural acoustics long ago. A series of Memorex
> ads proclaimed that we could no longer be certain if Ella Fitzgerald
> or a mechanical device was popping glassware with high notes. For that
> matter, we couldn't be certain if singing had anything to do with the
> shattering of the glass because, after all, it was a TV ad. On
> Broadway, singers are so over-microphoned that their disembodied
> voices suffuse the theater, coming at you from every direction except
> the singers' throats. If a modern-day Mary Martin were suffering from,
> say, acid reflux, and were to expertly lip-sync her performance one
> night, how many in the audience would know? Or care?
> Recording devices, along with every technological development since
> the taming of electricity, frighten us. Like the aborigine who fears
> his soul will be stolen by a photograph, we are made suspicious by the
> dehumanizing potential of canned speech. Movies have long exploited
> that mistrust. In Fritz Lang's "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse," made in
> 1933, the eponymous megalomaniac uses a recording device in order to
> pretend to be where he isn't. A decade later, Hitler did the same
> thing. In the mid-40's, when Crosby was making headlines because of
> his insistence on prerecording his radio show, a series of films
> exploited the nefarious side of deceptive recordings - to advance
> blackmail in "Nightmare Alley" and murder in "The Unsuspected" and
> "The Falcon's Alibi."
> By that time, Hollywood was dubbing more than vocals; feet-dubbers
> were also in demand, to match dance steps to scenes in which the
> dancers were filmed without sound. One of the best of them, Miriam
> Nelson, has told of dubbing the tap routine of a famous star with
> famously bad timing. Ms. Nelson asked the director if she should
> duplicate the star's taps or follow the music. The director told her
> to follow the music, explaining that if the audience heard the correct
> taps it would buy the illusion that the star was on point.
> We buy into worse illusions all the time. In the 1960's, it was a
> matter of pride for musicians as varied as Vladimir Horowitz and Dave
> Brubeck to refuse touch-ups on their live recordings. Does that kind
> of pride even exist in a world of automatic pitch shifters that can
> adjust off-key singing, and digital fixes that eliminate human error
> and a bit of humanity itself? The world in which Al Jolson (who
> lip-synced most of his film appearances in the 1930's and was himself
> lip-synced in "The Jolson Story") had to reach the last row of the
> highest balcony on lung power alone is long gone. Ladies and
> gentlemen, Jolie has left the building. Cue Ashlee Simpson.
> Gary Giddins is the author, most recently, or "Weather Bird: Jazz at
> the Dawn of its Second Century" and "Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of
> Richard Zvonar, PhD
> (818) 788-2202