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    Sound And Vision: Better Call Saul’s Perfect Montage

    Albert Genower explains why a particular montage from Better Call Saul is so moving in the first instalment of his column, Sound and Vision.

    Despite its frequent snubs at awards shows such as the Emmys and Golden Globes, few critics would argue that Better Call Saul isn’t one of television’s crowning achievements of the past decade. Of all the things that the show does exceedingly well, the artfully crafted montages throughout each of the sixth seasons stand head and shoulders above other shows, both in their emotional resonance and technical craftsmanship. There is, however, one montage that viewers keep returning to in Season 4, Episode 7 of the show, featuring the song Something Stupid.

    Better Call Saul is, at its heart, a love story, and this montage illustrates the lives of the two characters in this relationship—the titular Saul Goodman (here known by his legal name, Jimmy McGill) and Kim Wexler—showing how they differ and how they remain the same. At this point in the show, the story must progress through several months, showing Kim working as a lawyer and a temporarily disbarred Jimmy undertaking various odd jobs. All the while, a version of Something Stupid, recorded specially for the show by Israeli band Lola Marsh, plays.

    By taking a closer look at the different vocals of the song, both individually and how they interact, we can paint a better picture of why this particular montage is so effective. Firstly, there are two voices, singing in two-part harmony, a male voice and a female voice—Jimmy and Kim. As well as this, the voices are rhythmically identical, always moving together, even if they are moving in different directions or spaces. The two-part harmony of the vocals stays apart, never quite connecting in unison. For example, let’s look at the first line of the song. The voices start a major 6th apart, with the female voice singing a G♯ that she holds for 2 bars and the male voice singing a B. As the male voice ascends, the intervals shrink to a perfect 5th, then an augmented 4th, then a major 3rd. Just as the voices seem as if they’ll finally connect in unison, they are yanked further apart to a minor 6th, before settling in a perfect 5th. We can see this reflected in the montage itself with the display of both Jimmy and Kim’s names. Both names are revealed here but in such wildly different contexts; Kim’s is revealed on the door of her office, whilst Jimmy’s is shown on the document checking in during his legal suspension.

    This is not to say the show-runners looked specifically at the exact intervals in the music—that would be a pretty big stretch to make. But intentionally or not, this is the effect of the interaction of these two vocal lines, and the show-runners most certainly felt the impact of this interaction with their song choice. Something else that reflects the characters is the vocal melodies individually, with the female voice remaining more stable and consistent than the male one. Although it is the female voice that often sits on the harshest tensions, such as on the line “quiet little place and have a”, where the female highlights the dominant 7th of the E7 chord, the melodic contour of the male vocal line is far more unstable. The montage emphasises these qualities in the characters; look at how radically different the company they keep is; Kim, the professional businesswoman with suit-and-tie office workers helping her, and Jimmy, for everything that he is, spending his days with Huell, a professional pickpocket. Later on in the song, the vocal parts swap, with the female vocal part jumping up an octave. Firstly, this shows that the song uses relatively little melodic material, instead using smaller fragments in different ways to create something bigger. But this also lends a new energy to the fairly lengthy song, lifting up the whole vocal melody.

    Not only the songwriting itself, but also the production of the song contributes to the montage. The vocal lines are hard-panned in the left and right ears, something that differs from the more famous versions of the song, like Nancy and Frank Sinatra’s. You’ll only be able to hear this if you have headphones or stereo speakers, but the female voice is in the left ear and the male voice is in the right ear. Mirroring this, Kim is on the left, and Jimmy is on the right hand side of the screen.

    There is a lot to say about this song and this montage, but focusing on the vocal lines is the clearest way in which we can understand how the song serves this montage. The perfect song choice is instrumental in creating the perfect montage, and the use of Something Stupid is a testament to the care and attention that the creators put into the show, and why it’s such a brilliant piece of television.

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