The Dark Side Of The Rainbow
by Bruce Rusk
One of the most interesting things to spring from the fertile wellspring of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon (DSOTM) is the "Dark Side Of The Rainbow," which involves watching the MGM classic film The Wizard Of Oz (Oz) with the sound turned off, substituting the DSOTM album for the soundtrack -- the purpose being that the album allegedly serves as an alternate soundtrack for the film. I first heard of this about 10 years ago. The story was that if you played DSOTM while watching Oz, the songs synced up with the action on the screen, to the point where some scenes in the movie opened and closed in sync with the songs on the album, characters danced in rhythm to the DSOTM songs, etc.
Being a devout film buff and a big fan of both DSOTM and the film, I had to try it out for myself. (If you're the impatient type you can jump to the end of this article to see how it's done.) I tried it and it's downright uncanny at times. It's not entirely synched, not by a long road, but there are many significant timing coincidences between the music and the film. In some cases the songs change as a scene changes as I stated previously. In other places lyrics from the album relate to images on the screen. Some examples include:
" During the scene where the tornado flings the house up into the air, the song playing is "Great Gig In The Sky"
" Dancing Munchkins seem to be eerily in synch with the music of "Us And Them"
" The lyric "the lunatic is on the grass" occurs at the moment the Scarecrow begins dancing on a grassy lawn, and the line "got to keep the loonies on the path" comes just as Dorothy and the Scarecrow start dancing down the Yellow Brick Road.
There is a lot more, but it would spoil it for those who have never done this. As I said, the synchs are often far-fetched at best as far as relating the two, and a certain amount of imagination is required, but when the synchs occur in a seemingly natural way they are quite extraordinary. When done properly it's quite entertaining, and quite fun. I was very skeptical until I tried it, but have since entertained a number of friends by playing the synch for them. Unanimously the opinion has been that it's well worth an evening's entertainment and a DVD rental.
How this idea was discovered is the fodder of much debate. Two guys from San Diego, CA claim the discovery, as do many others. For me, I suspect it was a happy accident. I can see how a couple of stoners watching TV with the sound off, stereo blaring DSOTM, noticed the bizarre relationship between what was happening in the movie and what was coming out of the speakers. Eventually a radio DJ somewhere started speculating that Roger Waters composed it as an alternate soundtrack for the film.
The fascinating thing about this phenomenon is how well it illustrates just how much this album has ingrained itself into our culture. What was once laughed off as stoner hi-jinx has become so popular that movie theatres around the country started showing the synch at midnight shows, and Turner Classic Movies has twice had a "Dark Side Of The Rainbow" night showing the film with an alternate audio track of the album. Some online distributors even sell pre-synched versions of the two (which probably violate many copyright laws).
As the word spread, the rumors arose about the nature of DSOTM. The claim was that Roger Waters, the primary composer, had composed the album for just that purpose, with a relationship to the film. This is a pretty outlandish claim, since the suite of songs that comprise DSOTM changed many times, both in content, length and tempo, over a period of two years. Also, Waters was not the only composer or musician involved, and much of the solos and whatnot were improvised to some extent, effectively negating any possibility of exact timing. Add the fact that Alan Parsons engineered the album, which gave him significant influence over the final product, including the timing of songs, the inclusion of the many sound effects and voice clips, etc. Another alleged fact pointed to the prismatic rainbow on the album cover, and the recurring "over the rainbow" theme in the film.
Once it became the subject of pop-culture debate, the information got back around to Roger and the rest of the band. David Gilmour, Rick Wright and Nick Mason have all denied the claim in interviews. Roger for years refused to comment. Finally, when an interviewer brought it up to him Roger replied that had heard of it and though the idea amused him, he flatly denied any intentional attempt to marry the album with the film. To qualify this he is quoted as saying "If we'd have made the album with that in mind, we'd have done a much better job of it," referring to the fact that the synchs between the two are often tenuous at best. For me, the nail in the coffin of this rumor is the fact that in 1973, home video of any kind other than broadcast TV was non-existent, so there would be no way to synch the two unless you owned a movie theatre or TV station!
How is it done? Easy -- you need two things, a copy of The Dark Side Of The Moon on CD and a copy of The Wizard of Oz, preferably on DVD but a VHS tape will work just as well. Here are the basic steps:
- Pop in the DSOTM CD, press play, and then immediately hit Pause*.
- Pop in the movie and FF past any preliminary crap, until the black and white intro starts.
- When the black and white MGM lion roars the third time, hit play on the CD player**.
- Sit back and enjoy. To ensure the film and music are correctly synched, use these cues:
" The transition from "Speak to Me" to "Breathe" syncs with the fade-in of the credit for producer Mervyn LeRoy.
" When the line "…tears you'll cry ..." is sung, the farmhand Zeke is crying.
You'll know in the first few minutes if they are synched properly.
These are the basic steps. You can get more detailed information online at one of the many sites that describe the synch, including detailed lists of all the alleged synchs that occur, though I recommend watching it before reading those, so you can draw your own untainted conclusions.
I recommend starting at http://members.cox.net/stegokitty/dsotr_pages/dsotr.htm if you want more info. A Google search for "Dark Side Of The Rainbow" will also get you started.
Good luck, and if you try it, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know what you think.
* Some CD players, especially CD-ROM drives have to spin-up the disc before it actually starts playing, so it's important to hit play, then pause, to let the disc get cued. If you want to be really precise, hit play and wait until the counter on the player hits 00:01, and then hit Pause.
** On some recorded versions of The Wizard of Oz (there are many), there is an intro screen with a colored MGM lion. Do not start the album for the colored lion, wait for the black and white one that precedes the credits.