Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Voice became silent.

Last Monday, one of the movie industry’s most beloved celebrities died. His name is Don LaFontaine. Never heard of the guy? Well, you will instantly know him when you hear him. He’s the ‘In a world…’ voice-over guy from many hundreds of film trailers of the last decades.

This news made me think of a little paper I just wrote dealing with the concept of paratext, those textual elements giving meaning to all the information accompanying the main text of a media object (like the preface, table of contents and index of a book). They form ‘thresholds of interpretation’ as Genette puts it, potentially controlling the way a person reads, views or, in the case of games, plays the main text.

While the paper dealt with strategy guides for games (following Mia Consalvo’s excellent work on the topic), I just realised the paratextual power of LaFontaine’s legacy .

The carefully chosen words he uttered (nay, boomed) into his microphone, often in the cheesiest semi-poetic manners possible, may be pure marketing, they exist in a totally different textual plane than the rest of the film. They are not part of a film’s diegesis (or even non-diegesis), but nevertheless form the first threshold many viewers pass before encountering the film itself.

For the movie industry, his voice was all-powerful, an almost God-like tool to steer the audience to the box office. As this fun short with LaFontaine and his colleagues shows, it demands respect.

Here’s a nice article honouring LaFontaine’s work, including a nice little documentary in which you can actually see the man himself talk about his work. The Don will be missed.

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