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Reviewed by:
  • Film's Musical Moments
  • Catherine Haworth (bio)
Ian Conrich and Estella Tincknell, eds., Film's Musical Moments (Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 240 pp.

Film's Musical Moments is described by its editors, Ian Conrich and Estella Tincknell, as a book '…about musical performance on film, about the use of music within film and … about film musicals: a triple focus that articulates the complex relationship that exists between music and the cinematic text' (1). This very broad remit is one of the collection's major strengths, but also its significant weakness. Although it allows the inclusion of work from a range of theoretical and critical standpoints and usefully moves away from the fairly rigid generic, historical and stylistic boundaries that already characterise much of the literature in soundtrack studies, its lack of real focus also limits the amount that the collection can achieve. Its chapters, in other words, are perhaps a little too eclectic to thoroughly open up the possibilities and implications of the cinematic 'musical moment'.

Conrich and Tincknell view the musical moment as occurring in several different guises – most conventionally in the traditional performance space of the film musical's song and dance number, but also, outside that genre, '…the novelty or romantic song within comedy, musical performance within animation, or the biopic and the lip-synching musical parody in many post-classical films' (1). Musical moments do not always feature diegetic performance (at least not in a conventional sense) but frequently occur as a result of musical 'excess', where the striking presence of music in a non-musical film acts to disrupt the text for particular effect. These musical disruptions act not only as effective (and affective) disturbances, but also frequently work to express the underlying themes or concerns of the narrative. Here, the collection builds upon Conrich's previous work on the film comedies of the Marx Brothers (2000), where moments of musical performance frequently punctuate the text in a manner that parallels the narrative's own concerns with chaos and anarchy: 'Music in this context is thus both a momentarily disruptive force and integral to the overall coherence of the text: it helps to articulate the underlying values or ideas in a new way' (5).

Moments of musical performance in films such as Breakfast at Tiffany's [End Page 83] (Blake Edwards, 1961) and both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1934 & 1956) are also described as suspending the narrative whilst simultaneously underpinning its themes, drawing comparisons with the function, if not quite the style, of many song and dance numbers in the film musical. Contemporary films often heighten the disruptive effect of the musical moment by employing the montage editing and post-classical aesthetic of music video to produce sequences of a 'deliberately anti-integrational' nature (5). Conrich and Tincknell view these sequences as opportunities to 'broaden rather than restrict the possible audiences for the film' and to 'secure audience engagement, not only with the film itself but also with the particular recordings featured in these brief eruptions of aural and visual spectacle' (6). They give the example here of Céline Dion's chart-topping 'My Heart Will Go On' as used in Titanic (James Cameron, 1997), noting that the 'meaning' of the film also circulated through the song and its associations. Whilst 'My Heart Will Go On' certainly acted as a highly successful form of cross-promotion, its 'broadening' effect is perhaps more minimal than suggested here, as it is a musical moment very closely aimed at the film's original target market, rather than at those outside it.

The essays in Film's Musical Moments investigate these uses of musical excess in a range of texts and utilise a variety of different approaches. Several of the chapters are primarily historical in focus, outlining the significance of the musical moment in particular genres or cinematic traditions, whilst others take a more critical approach to assessing the ramifications of musical excess and its affective qualities upon such issues as star and fan texts, musical consumption and marketing, and personal and collective identities.

The collection is divided into four sections, of which the first, 'Music, Film, Culture', is the...


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pp. 83-90
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