14/10/2019No Comments

Sandy Hook, Never Again

UPDATE: This essay, alongside others from my CDM Cohort, are available now as an ebook! Get your copy here!

December 14, 2012 is a day I remember vividly. I was in high school at the time, and had just submitted a paper in my Civics class about gun control and the complex but strict laws in Canada versus the lax laws and focus on "right to bear arms" in the United States.

From the 1970s until 2016, there have been under fifteen school shootings Canada-wide (CBCNews, 2016). On the other hand, there have been around 188 school shootings in the United States since 2000 (Erickson, 2018). As many people across the world agree, America's school shootings issue is truly unique to their country.

December 14, 2012 was a cold day, and rapidly approaching the supposed 'end of the world' on December 21, 2012. It was near the end of the semester and I remember walking home in the cold desperately waiting for the Christmas break to come. At that time, I was very active on Twitter, and it was very soon after I got home from school that I saw the news on my Twitter feed. My parents always left 680 News on at home (a local news station back home in Toronto), and not long after I saw the news online did I hear 680 report it over the airwaves.

It was a deep sadness, something felt in the gut. We could do nothing as we watched the numbers rise, as information on who had been lost came to light — 20 children dead, 6 teachers and staff lost (Frank, 2013). There was outrage across the United States and the world.

That night, my father worked late. He works in television news and this—among many other tragedies and events of my childhood—held him at work late into the night. I remember how dishevelled he was coming home, how quiet, how sombre.

Newtown and Sandy Hook quickly became more than just a place, but a movement. Charity organizations were established such as the Sandy Hook Promise (www.sandyhookpromise.org) which pushes for advocacy toward new policies around firearms. So many gun control movements have followed in their footsteps, in the horror that is the fact that there have been so many shootings since 2012. But I believe the modern movement of gun control activism largely pays its dues to Newtown.

Newtown Sandy Hook memorial
Billboard in Newtown, CT.

The Stoneman Douglas school shooting created stronger social media movements to follow, mostly started by the teen survivors of the shooting, who began appearing at protests, on news outlets, and creating strong social media presences — specifically the #NeverAgain and #EnoughisEnough movements (Barden, 2018). These gained a lot of press and even created the March for Our Lives campaign, a school walkout. Sandy Hook is often mentioned at these rallies, as one Natalie Barden, who lost her brother at Sandy Hook, advocates and sympathizes for the victims of Stoneman Douglas as well (Barden, 2018).

Though, in a strange twist of social media—tied in with the so-called "fake news" movement—many conspiracists took to the web to debunk the Sandy Hook Shooting, saying it was faked to push for stricter gun laws (Williamson, 2018).

As Elizabeth Williamson reports, "Alex Jones, an online conspiracy theorist whose InfoWars website is viewed by millions, seized on this agonizing recollection to repeat the bizarre falsehood that the 2012 shooting that killed 20 first graders and six adults at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., was an elaborate hoax invented by government-backed “gun grabbers” (2018).

This is one of the prevailing problems of our current social media climate — lies are being spread and pitting people against each other. Outlandish claims gain traction with people of similar radical mindsets and turn what was certainly a tragedy into some sort of hoax where the true feelings of those who lost loved ones are neglected and brushed away. As Williamson reports, "More than five years after one of the most horrific mass shootings in modern history, the families of Sandy Hook victims are still enduring daily threats and online abuse from people who believe bogus theories spread by Mr. Jones" (2018).

We have created, catered, and nurtured a toxic online environment fed to us by the very same targeted ads and directed news that we create. Social media movements have bleak, dark sides, and in this era of 'post-truth', we need to be cognizant of facts and biases presented by reporters and self-appointed theorists or else the truth will be lost in the muddle of media. If we look at history as method, we know that the United States has a serious gun control issue. We also know that countries such as Australia and New Zealand have solved issues of much lower calibre with much stricter laws. The complicated landscape of American politics is hard to traverse and many people are shaped socially to fall into certain categories — some may look at Sandy Hook as a tragedy, others may look at it as a conspiracy. One of the issues with digital media is that people will end up looking at like-minded articles; people will have ads targeted at them to move toward gun control sites or conspiracy sites, and the Sandy Hook hashtags become a strange piece of doublespeak in the digital world.


Barden, N. (2018, August 15). I Lost My Brother in the Sandy Hook Shooting, and Will Continue to Fight for Gun Control. Retrieved from https://www.teenvogue.com/story/natalie-barden-sandy-hook-march-for-our-lives-gun-violence-op-ed.

CBCNews. (2016, January 24). Deadly school shootings in Canada | CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/deadly-shootings-schools-canada-1.3416685.

Erickson, A. (2018, February 15). The one number that shows America's problem with school shootings is unique. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/02/15/the-one-number-that-shows-americas-problem-with-school-shootings-is-unique/.

Frank, M. (2013, December 9). Newtown is no longer just a place, but a movement | Monte Frank. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/newtown-anniversary-we-choose-love.

Williamson, E. (2018, May 23). Truth in a Post-Truth Era: Sandy Hook Families Sue Alex Jones, Conspiracy Theorist. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/us/politics/alex-jones-trump-sandy-hook.html.

21/06/2020No Comments

music in film: mickey mousing

NOTE: This post was originally created for an SFU film music course on Jun 18, 2020.

I believe the Mickey Mousing technique was prevalent during the Golden Age of Hollywood as it carried over from silent films and theatre dramatizations that were scored live by a pit band. The viewers at the time were used to a more simplistic soundtrack played live to accompany films or stage productions and variety acts. Using sound to punctuate movements of characters really adds a promoted and pronounced element, and can accentuate subtler movements as well. That being said, from a modern perspective, Mickey Mousing can sometimes take on a more comical quality as modern viewers like myself are not used to it. 

Recently, I watched the movie Mildred Pierce because I was interested in hearing more of Max Steiner’s scoring. Unfortunately I could not find any clips of the Mickey Mousing specifically on YouTube but Max Steiner employs it for Wally and many of the other side characters. While it makes sense for Wally’s character—he is quite dramatic and overzealous—it comes off a bit comical for the other characters. Personally I think the usage of leitmotifs was much more effective in Mildred Pierce than the usage of Mickey Mousing. 

When I first read through this module, I was struck by how well the scene from King Kong worked, with its Mickey Mousing tuba steps. In the Max Steiner films I have watched, Mickey Mousing seems to be a tool he employed less liberally as his career continued. I believe that this is because of the shift in the general public, as the audiences became accustomed to synchronous sound and music, and scores began to play a slightly more subtle role in the movies themselves.

When I think of Mickey Mousing, the first thing that comes to mind is Fantasia 2000. Nearly every part of that film employs Mickey Mousing in one way or another, and this was chiefly achieved because the animation was specifically set to the music.

I believe that Mickey Mousing works great in animated films because our suspension of disbelief as an audience is already much higher: we’re often watching talking animals do physically impossible things, so the emphasis with Mickey Mousing either enforces a character’s movements who may not be able to speak, or is played completely for comic effect. This works excellently with the whimsy of the setting, especially in Fantasia, where there is everything from walking broomsticks to linedancing flamingos.

I was curious about how Mickey Mousing is used in modern live action, and found some examples that use it in a subtler way than Steiner and the other composers did during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

For example, the opening of Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing slows down the visuals to match the music as the characters ride in. As this is a Shakespearean comedy and is quite silly, the Mickey Mousing is played for comedic effect and works brilliantly.

I have also found some examples of Mickey Mousing in modern action films. For example, in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Danny Elfman employs an understated usage of Mickey Mousing as Peter Parker realizes that he, in fact, can climb the walls. It adds tension and drama to the scene, and really hammers the point home that this is a hero’s journey that he is beginning. 

But similarly to Fantasia, I believe the reason that this usage of Mickey Mousing works so well is because of the setting that it is in. Spider-Man is a comic character, and he receives superpowers from being bitten by a radioactive spider. Our suspension of disbelief as we get to this scene is already quite high, so the Mickey Mousing does not feel nearly as out of place as it might if the movie had no supernatural elements and occurred in our own realm of reality. 

Similarly, this also happens in the culminating scene of the Wachowskis’ The Matrix, scored by Don Davis, where Neo (Keanu Reeves) fights Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Like Spider-Man, The Matrix exists in a world parallel to our own. The Mickey Mousing in this scene is blended a bit more into the full score and without actively listening a viewer may miss it, but again viewers are less likely to have an issue with the scoring as it makes sense within the parameters of the film's world. 

Lastly, the finale of Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) plays out very comedically with all of the villain’s henchmen’s heads exploding in perfect time to Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance.  The entirety of the movie itself is a tongue-in-cheek play on the world of James Bond and many other spy movies, so this comedic culmination in the villain’s demise works great as a fun use of Mickey Mousing.

All in all, I think Mickey Mousing has its place in film, but that place has changed periodically as the industry and the audiences have grown and adapted to new techniques. Animation seems to be the perfect home to Mickey Mousing, though I am curious to see it employed in more modern, live-action films. 

21/06/2020No Comments

music in film: drive

NOTE: This post was originally created for an SFU course on Music in Film on May 27, 2020

The scene I chose is the titling scene from Nicholas Winding Refn’s film Drive. The soundtrack throughout Drive sets up the atmosphere perfectly and provides a teetering line between fantasy and reality.

Titling scene of Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive

The specific scene I would like to highlight is an introduction to the film. It is tracked by the song “Nightcall” by Kavinsky feat. Lovefoxxx. The pulsing, brutalist sound of the track’s instrumentation, coupled with the distorted and vocoded vocals, creates a futuristic, almost dystopian sound, reminiscent of Daft Punk and Vangelis’s score for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. 

There is no dialogue in the opening scene, and the introduction of the setting of Los Angeles, the main character the Driver (played by Ryan Gosling), and the details of his life—his car, his apartment, his neighbour and eventual love interest Irene (Carey Mulligan)—are all tied together by this rhythmic “Nightcall” tune. The city lights and the dark electronic soundtrack bring to mind the idea of nightclubs and late night affairs; of darkness and a Los Angeles different to the one we know and love in Hollywood films, and yet not that different. 

We watch the Driver move through the city, observing the nuances in his expression. From the beginning of the film, alongside this brutalist soundtrack, we understand that he is, much like the Los Angeles we are viewing, more than meets the eye. This comes directly from the music itself, which pairs smooth synth sounds against the harsh vocoded vocals and creates a dissonance that reflects the internal turmoil of the Driver. 

As this is such an early scene, the music is key in introducing and relating multiple things to the viewer. The soundtrack in this scene establishes, specifically:

  1. The setting: Modern Los Angeles, with a discordant deep house sound that reminds the audience of previously established film aesthetics.
  2. The character’s status: The rigid, walking tempo of the song “Nightcall” makes one think of moving forward; of driving. This scene ties the Driver to his car and the electronic soundtrack. But this electronic aesthetic immediately lets us in on a little secret of the Driver’s life — that he has underground connections. 
  3. The psychological state of the character: This song does a lot of foreshadowing, which can be found within the lyrics:

I'm giving you a night call to tell you how I feel
I want to drive you through the night, down the hills
I'm gonna tell you something you don't want to hear
I'm gonna show you where it's dark, but have no fear

There something inside you
It's hard to explain
They're talking about you boy
But you're still the same

The lyrics foreshadow conflict, while underscoring the turmoil we see in the Driver from the opening shot. The music immediately lends itself as a vehicle for the audience to better understand the Driver’s character; and in a way, he embodies the track, so the viewer can make an intrinsic link between the character and the sound.

All in all, this scene and its soundtrack do an absolutely excellent job of setting the tone for the rest of the film. Through the music and the cinematography we understand that this movie is going to be dark. But the male and female vocalists and the bright synths paired with the darker driving beat in the soundtrack lend an air of romanticism to the scene as well, creating new layers of meaning.

© isabel k. hughes, 2020 | twitter | instagram | linkedin