All posts by Sean Cavanagh

First Example of “Mickey-Mousing”


Mickey-Mousingoverillustrating the action through the musical score, drawn from the conventions of composing for cartoons. An example of mickey-mousing is accompanying a character walking on tiptoe with music played by plucked strings.

Since we watched The Sandman the other day in class to see how music and sound editing play a key role in animation (particularly in terms of setting the scene or story), I thought it would be cool to show Steamboat Willie, which was the very first animated short to feature sound, paving the way for future animated works.

Most of you have probably either seen or heard of Steamboat Willie, because this was one of the very first Mickey Mouse cartoons and is considered one of the best pieces of animation. Debuting in 1928, the film was an enormous hit, not only because of its achievements in animation (for the time, the quality was considered “fluid”), but its in contributions to sound editing. Walt Disney was a firm believer that sound was important in telling a story, and even though buying the sound equipment and working with composers was incredibly expensive for an animation studio at the time, it was a worthwhile and groundbreaking investment.

While the animation itself is humorous, all of the actions are heightened and dramatized by the sounds that accompany them. Sure, in the real world bodies can’t stretch like Mr. Fantastic and then return to normal, so there wouldn’t be a sound that really corresponds with that. But in animation, the sound of a stretching rubber band can do a a great job of making this impossible action seem believable and understandable to an audience. Disney Studios combined an actual score with musical instruments, minor voice acting (provided by Walt Disney himself), and a variety of random household objects in order to make a convincing and entertaining story through sound. Each action would be entertaining on its own, but without the sounds they would be far less convincing. Some of the sounds are a little over the top, but they help to solidify this fake world.

Disney Animation Studios continued perfecting this technique for a few years, experimenting in a couple of shorts and eventually making Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), which was the first fully-animated feature film, that also contained sound. Since then, Disney has been well-known for their ability to combine music and imagery to tell a powerful story. When they eventually branched into musicals (which includes all of our favorite 90s movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Aladdin), they knew that not only could they make the songs catchy and relatable, but they could be used to tell the story of the film more effectively. They’ve come a long way since Steamboat Willie (the sound effects are a little more realistic and less “cartoonish”), but looking back, we can still appreciate this short film for introducing a new way to look at sound in film.

Age of the Image- A Note on PowerPoints


I know that it wasn’t a huge part of the reading, but I thought that it was pretty interesting how Stephen Apkon dedicated a small section of “The Big Business of Images” to talking about PowerPoint and how important it has become in modern days.

While the section gave me some flashbacks to the thousands of PPT presentations I had to make in high school, it is weird to think that something so common to our lives (and that I think a lot of us take for granted) can really be so influential to both our student and professional careers. Almost everybody uses some form of PPT, whether that’s middle school students or the professionals we hope to be in the future, and they really are a testament to everything Apkon says in the book about the power of images. Most presentations can be pretty dull (unless the speaker is charismatic), but if the presentation makes use of a visual aid, more than likely our attention is going to be grabbed (at least to a greater extent than before). PowerPoints prove, for both good and bad, that humans are very visual creatures–we just don’t like our stories told to us, we like our stories shown to us.

To Be, Or Not to Be: Shakespeare References in JFK



Throughout JFK, but mostly towards the end of the film, there are a variety of allusions made towards Shakespeare’s works, in particular Julius Caesar. I haven’t had the chance to read the full play, but it deals with heavy themes of loyalty and betrayal, which is a direct reflection of the film’s plot about the potential betrayal of John F. Kennedy at the hands of the U.S. Government/C.I.A.

Julius Caesar is a parallel to JFK himself, as both men are viewed as legendary leaders who radically changed their respective nations, but were betrayed by the people they trusted most. Caesar’s council members, in particular the character of Brutus, who betray and assassinate Caesar during the play are meant to embody the C.I.A. and U.S. Government politicians who secretly planned JFK’s assassination for their own personal/political agendas (that is, if we are following Jim Garrison’s conspiracy theory).

Garrison uses this play almost as justification for his investigation, referencing it most noticeably during the scenes before Shaw’s trial, in the crowded room where he his trying to convince his partners to see the case through. He asks Bill if he has ever seen or read Julius Caesar when Bill begins questioning the team’s accusations against the government, and while his argument is not particularly effective on Bill, it makes for a poetic, literary allusion that implies that assassinations of political figures by their trusted advisors are not impossible (it builds rational, at least for him, that the case has a chance of succeeding).

During the court room scene at the end of the film, Garrison also uses the phrase “shuffle off my mortal coil,” to describe how many of the documents concerning JFK’s assassination would be released after he is dead, and when they would no longer be of use to him. This is a direct reference to the famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy in Hamlet (which most of us have probably experienced-or suffered through-in some way, shape, or form).

I’m sure that there were a few other, more subtle Shakespeare references in the film, but these were the ones that stood out to me the most. If any of you remember any more references, or can elaborate on any of these connections in greater detail, that would be awesome (of course, we could always watch the movie again to find out. It’s only 200 minutes).

Age of the Image & Disney World


Ride Audio:

Ride Visuals:

I know that this doesn’t really apply to the films we’ve been watching, but this week’s chapter in The Age of the Image “What is Literacy” really reminded me of Spaceship Earth while I was reading it.

The chapter was essentially an interesting history lesson on the evolution of communication, from cave paintings and monosyllables to modern technology and complex languages. It touched on a variety of world cultures, from Rome and Ancient Egypt, to the Renaissance and even the 20th century. The whole time though I kept thinking of Spaceship Earth, the giant globe ride in Epcot Disney World, which basically covers the same information (albeit with more animatronics and Disney magic).

Both are enormous testaments to the power of communication and truly solidify the view that we humans are very much “storytelling animals.” If we weren’t, then this blog (and the books we read and the movies we watch) wouldn’t exist.

More Examples of Dolly Zooms

I found this video on Vimeo that shows a montage of different dolly zooms used throughout cinema, from films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (which apparently made the technique famous and introduced it, more or less, into mainstream Hollywood) and Lord of the Rings, and even into music videos like “Thriller.”

The shots can be a little disorienting, but they’re pretty fascinating to look at, and definitely establish a stylistic theme of confusion, fear, and mystery.

Note: Just a warning that the music in the video can be a little annoying and overbearing.

“Tawana Told the Truth!”



I know that we mentioned Tawana briefly before watching Do the Right Thing, but I thought than an interesting piece of mise-en-scene in the film was the graffiti shown in the background of all of the scenes and how they linked the events of the film to real life new stories. The most noticeable of these was “Tawana Told the Truth!”, written in white graffiti on the red wall behind Mookie and Jade (his sister) when he asks her not to visit Sal’s pizzeria.

I’ve posted a few links to Wikipedia and news articles on the Tawana Brawley case (including where she is now), and even though the subject matter is rough, it is pretty interesting to see how it was woven into the scene. For those of you who don’t know, Tawana was a teenager in the late 1980’s who accused six white men (including a few policemen and an attorney) of sexually abusing her and leaving her in an alleyway with racial slurs written on her body. It was eventually ruled that Tawana had fabricated the stories and staged the scene (her motives were unclear, though there are various possibilities).

During the trials, Tawana’s story gained mass support from the African American community, especially in Hollywood, where actors like Bill Cosby advocated for her and tried to raise legal funds for her trial. It was an important incident of racial tension, dividing various communities across the country, and Spike Lee may have included this to showcase the real-world prevalence of racism through a “fictional” film. It also gives a small insight into Mookie’s protectiveness for Jade (a character he still sees as innocent) as he tries to warn her about Sal (whose intentions, he believes, could be similar to the alleged intentions of Tawana’s “attackers”).

Color Symbolism:

White Graffiti (stands out against the red, a symbol of innocence and purity)

Red Wall (common throughout the film, magnifies heat and anger, symbol of racial tension and violence)

Commercials vs. Films as Storytelling Devices


Hey everyone, I know that this is a departure from Children of Men, but, especially in light of the Superbowl, I thought that it would be interesting to talk about commercials and their roles in storytelling.

My dad and I were talking about the Superbowl commercials last night (he wasn’t that huge a fan of this year’s selection), and he asked me whether I think that movies or commercials are more effective at telling a story.

There’s obviously a lot of variables that go into that answer, and honestly, I don’t know if there even is one. I love to watch movies because there is something astounding in the amount of work that it takes to make a feature length film, but not all movies are huge successes or feel satisfying after we watch them. The same goes  with commercials. Sometimes, a good commercial can tell a story more hilarious or heartfelt  in 30 seconds than a film tells in 90 minutes, but other times, commercials can have so much build up, then fall flat (some can be just plain bizarre).

What do you think? Can 30 second commercials be as, or more, effective in telling narratives or delivering messages than feature length films? Does the amount of work it takes to make a commercial vs. a film factor into it? Are they even comparable or are they in a league of their own?

Here’s the link to the Superbowl XLIX commercials from this year, in case some of you didn’t get the chance to see them or wanted to check them out again:


Long/Tracking Shots In Other Media (True Detective)


WARNING: Potential spoilers in video (not really, but I figured I might as well warn you just in case).

The tracking shots seen in Children of Men were brilliantly choreographed and they reminded me of a similar tracking shot in True Detective, a police drama that debuted last year on HBO. Most of you have probably heard of it, but the show follows two detectives (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) in Louisiana as they try to track down a serial killer with a fetish for the macabre and odd-ritualistic sacrifice. It was up for a series of awards, and if you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out.

That being said, sorry for any potential spoilers. The tracking shot is seen at the end of the fourth episode, “Who Goes There” and follows Matthew McConaughey as a sting operation gets out of control. It doesn’t give too many plot details away, but it is definitely a huge turning point in the style of the show. The choreography may not be as impressive as Children of Men, but it is definitely well-crafted and the amount of action taking place in the background is astonishing. I think it is at least work a comparison.

Note: There’s quite a bit of expletives and violence in this scene, a small warning for the faint of heart.