Where some artworks start with a declaration, others present a puzzle in need of solution.
In film, the mystery genre operates on this principle and comes in two primary forms:
- The closed mystery, in which the audience sees a dead body, or perhaps the actual killing onscreen, but the killer’s identity hidden. Their eagerness to solve the crime draws the audience into the film.
- The open mystery, in which the audience knows who the killer is. What draws them into the plot are the questions, “Will the killer be caught?” and “How?”
The introduction of D.O.A. presents a further twist, how can the murder victim still be alive? The murder method may not feel too hard to guess at, but this additional twist helps charge the movie with the feeling of unanswered questions, enough to draw the audience forward.
Consider that musical pieces can also present mysteries in the forms of musical questions and, perhaps, surprising answers.
The opening movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (0:00-5:37 in this version, performed by Richard Goode) stirs by way of its mystery. The opening arpeggio quickly begins to explore alternatives, taking strange turns and arriving at unexpected harmonic destinations before returning back to the starting point. It is as if the journey unearths aspects of ourselves of which we had not previously known. And if any of the questions have been answered, others linger as the movement closes. The movement’s mystery draws us forward, perhaps having aroused our desire to see what else we might learn about ourselves as we listen.
"Milonga for Three" follows the Prologue of Astor Piazolla's The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night (Tango Apasionado). It is not the very beginning of the work, but as it follows the prologue, it is reasonable to think of it as some sort of starting point.
As with the Moonlight Sonata, note how this piece draws us in by raising musical questions. Also, the sense of space around the ensemble suggests the empty streets of night, something noir-ish. All three of these examples have associations with the night, a natural starting point for a mystery. Will anything come to light? Will our questions find answers? If we are curious, we must continue into the work.
Thank you for reading.