- Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema
The academic study of film music is entering an interesting phase: some of the premisses on which the last twenty years or so of scholarship have been grounded are being challenged from within the field. This collection brings together sixteen essays by renowned writers on film music and musicologists noted for their work on the social and cultural context of musical production and reception in an exploration of how ‘film conceptualizes music’ (p. 3). The majority of the contributions build on classic work in film musicology and focus on Western films, though they usefully continue to broaden the repertory and to raise questions rather than offer answers. A handful of essays—notably those offered by film musicologists—actively confront the assumptions of such frameworks (or histories), in some cases suggesting alternatives. Theory plays a leading role in a number of the essays and is usefully interwoven with analysis and/or cultural critique in the main. The collection is nominally split into three sections—Musical Meaning, Musical Agency, and Musical Identity—though a substantial overlap exists between these categories. Alas, there is not space here to discuss all the essays in this strong collection in detail.
I begin with Robynn Stilwell’s essay, ‘The Fantastical Gap between Diegetic and Non-diegetic’, which might just lead to a potentially radical change in how we conceptualize film music. Emphasizing the ossification that taxonomic categorization of music as diegetic or nondiegetic brings, and which has become endemic in much film music scholarship, Stilwell focuses on films’ frequent traversals of the diegetic/nondiegetic border. Her ideas build on the field’s growing concern with the character of these border crossings, as explored elsewhere by Heather Laing (2000), Jim Buhler (2001), and Rick Altman (1985), for example, though often only briefly. Stilwell envisages this crossing-over/trajectory-through as a process or ‘vector’, rather than a switch. This gap ‘changes the state, not only of the filmic moment, but also of the observer’s relationship to it’ (p. 200). By contemplating ‘some of the axes along which we can negotiate that gap’ (p. 187), she argues that we may begin to map the geography of this soundscape. The axes offered are those that run between diegetic and nondiegetic, foreground and background, subjectivity and objectivity, and empathy and anempathy. To complicate matters, however, the various axes don’t necessarily correlate in a straightforward way. Diegetic music sometimes operates more subjectively and some nondiegetic music functions more objectively, for example. Following moments of destabilization, a combination of such factors might guide us towards a particular interpretation as we try to pin down one view over another, only to wrong-foot us, which might lead us to attempt to change our view retroactively. The position of the audience member is ‘constantly shifting, . . . we are sliding along these various axes at different speeds and in different directions, and in our disorientation we are more susceptible to the effects along the way’ (p.192).
This axial framework has the potential to enable far more specific conceptualization of the border crossings that characterize so much film music, but which have thus far been little discussed, such as the intriguing category that Claudia Gorbman labelled ‘metadiegetic’ in Unheard Melodies (1987). Stilwell’s writing is clear and accessible, and is supported with examples from a wide range of films. The essay is persuasive in a number of ways: the three-dimensionality of the framework, the focus on continua over categories, and on process over classification. In another essay, Richard Dyer considers some of the same issues in exploring the character of ‘ironic attachment’ that Nino Rota’s film scores afford. These two essays complement each other in quite interesting ways.
Berthold Hoeckner investigates a different aspect of border crossing: here between watching people imagine, and what they imagine. He compares the ecstatic, rhapsodic ‘transport’ that music can allow, with its capacity as a carrier [End Page 113] of...