Film music can be defined as music ‘used ina film to accompany the action and create atmosphere’1.Film music itself, in its above definition, is universal, however itsinterpretation is not, as it only exists within language. This may mean thatwhat we understand about film music is influenced by individuals’ opinions ofboth general music and film music, and even their opinion of the particularfilm, thus informing our understanding and how we then go on to interpretscenes. This may suggest to a contemporary film critic that we, as an audience,are not free when watching a film. We may feel as though we are, however thefreer we feel the more we are brought under control by the music. Furthermore,the more we think we’re interpreting the film, the more that interpretation isbeing made for us.
Diegesis in its musical definition has beenreferred to as ‘sound whose source is visible on the screen implied to bepresent by the action of the film’2.This implies that it carries the ability to manipulate the narrative of thescene through the music. When referring to her findings within her study of theTagg and Clarida study, Anahid Kasabian states that she found their listenersto have ‘predominantly associated certain ideas, such as tranquillity, withwomen, or strength with men’3.Within the Tagg and Clarida study, the documentation is focused on severalhundreds of participants’ response to ten extracts of music played as film ortelevision title music, without ‘visual accompaniment’4.This result, to a modern film critic, may seem to provoke ideas of genderstereotyping and highlight the unnecessary gap between equality of men and women.We can see musical evidence of this within the film Enchanted, which was released in 2007. The storyline features a ‘naïveyoung woman’5who is due to marry a prince, banished by her unpleasant step mother to NewYork City, where she proceeds to fall in love with a lawyer.
The film itselftakes on a niche visual element of being split between a cartoon narrative and a’real life’ one, where Giselle, the young Princess to be, is associated withanimals and household chores, and Edward, the Prince, is associated with ridinghis ‘noble steed’ into battle and saving Giselle, a relationship which today manywould be criticised if it were ‘in the real world’6.In the first scene, we see Giselle building her ‘true love’ out of householdobjects. Whilst she ponders on what material to use to create his lips, a swarmof young animals come to her rescue, and she uses her singing voice to call forhelp from more animals.
Here we see the association between female charactersand animals, possibly suggesting that females are supposed to be more maternal,thus adding to the juxtaposition between the male and female characters, and contributingtowards gender stereotyping. This idea is furthered when the arguably diegeticmusic is introduced in ‘True Love’s Kiss’. This song features Giselle longingfor a ‘true love’ of her own, and leads to her later confessing her love for PrinceEdward, which she finds is requited, despite the fact they have neverpreviously met. The song initially starts as an opportunity for Giselle toexplain what a kiss from your ‘true love’ embodies and why it is so important,as she takes the opportunity to explain to her young animal friends thateverybody needs this to know whether or not they are truly made to be together.Here, we see the idea of women being stereotypically more maternal and closerto nature come into play again, as Giselle dreams about her future of belongingto a man.
Here, the music sits diegetically within the scene, thus helping thefilm’s interpretation be one of a more gender stereotypical one. The fact thatthe instrumentation features the light, airy, soft music of flutes and violinsfor Giselle, may suggest that women can be interpreted as being purer than men,as Giselle’s friends are all young animals, with which she can communicate. Thiscan be furthered by William Blake’s belief that all children are born pure, andit takes their life experiences for them to become cynical and experienced.
This is a common motif within many of his poems, where he uses phrases such as ‘happychild’7and ‘little boys and girls raising their innocent hands’8to convey his feelings of children and animals being closer to nature, as theyhave not yet been tainted by the harsh realities of life. ‘True Love’s Kiss’ becomes a duet whenPrince Edward enters riding a horse, followed by a triumphant brass fanfarewithin the orchestral music. The fact that Giselle is accompanied predominantlyby flutes, clarinets and violins, yet Prince Edward takes on a brass sectionlayered over an orchestra becomes a further indication of the genderstereotyping within this scene, as the brass section embodies a large, strongsound, whilst the predominantly woodwind instruments create a smaller, smoothersound. This may be reflecting the desirable, physical properties of a Prince asbeing large and strong enough to rescue a Princess, and the desirable physicalproperties of a Princess to be of a smaller and gracious, attractive youngwoman who is appealing enough to be worth the hardship of the Prince during hisdecision to save her.
This affects the way in which the film music isinterpreted, as the large, rich brass section alongside the orchestra allows theaudience to believe the Prince is authoritative and powerful, yet the Princessis meek and mild, and almost requires saving without even being in danger. Acontemporary film critic may see this as an outdated narrative and mind set,even though it is a modern film, however it is in keeping with the traditional,fairy-tale narrative. Due to the diegetic nature of the music, the storyline ofthe film can be more easily interpreted, as can Giselle’s wish for a ‘True Love’sKiss’. The fact that this scene does not contain any non-diegetic links may furtherhighlight the genre of the film, being a musical. A contemporary film criticmay also suggest that this allows the audience to completely lose themselveswithin the magic of the scene. The music may also reflect this, as it featuresa dreamy music background reprised of an orchestra, with solos from the fluteand clarinet. This also reinforces Laura Mulvey’s theory that the cinema allowsa ‘temporary loss of ego, whilst simultaneously reinforcing it’9.
ForrestGump was released in 1994, and follows the eventsof a young man’s life, including his admission into the Army, and his successat becoming a minor celebrity within the ping pong world. Within Forrest Gump, affiliation occurs asForrest and his fellow troops arrive in Vietnam and are being shown aroundtheir camp. Affiliation within film music can be described as pre-known songsbringing prior knowledge to a scene, as a piece or type of piece has alreadybeen experienced by a film’s audience. This, however, does not give the narrowidentification that of an unknown piece would, thus creating a generalatmosphere.
Pre-known pieces also cannot sit within the background of a scene,if they are already known to the audience. This may subsequently mean that thescene doesn’t have the same ideological pull. Within this scene, the camp seemsvery relaxed and features soldiers having barbecues, drinking beer andmaintaining a general feeling of fun and adventure. One of the songs whichfeatures in these scenes of affiliation is ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin. Thisuse of affiliation may initially seem non-diegetic, as it the music does notappear to come from anything physical within the scene, however a contemporaryfilm critic may suggest it has a diegetic link to the action which occurswithin the scene. The fact that the lyrics contain a semantic field of respectand longing for admiration, could suggest a direct diegetic link to the factthat the soldiers do not have to be told to respect Lieutenant Dan, they justknow to do it instinctively, as he belongs to a higher rank than themselves. Alieutenant can be described as a rank which is typically ‘held for 3 years’10,during which time having up to ’30 soldiers’11,thus furthering the idea of respect being a mandatory requirement and a largetheme within this scene.
However, a contemporary film critic may suggest thatit could have been used ironically, to portray the sense of great adventurethat the relaxed, fun, testosterone fuelled atmosphere of the camp. The use ofthis arguably non-diegetic music could be argued to be negative in itsaffectation of the music within the film, as its uncertainty around the desiredmeaning within the film’s usage of this may throw the audience into confusionabout the true meaning of the scene, or even whether it has just one meaning,and ultimately obscure the original intended significance of the scene. Within ‘Visualand Other Pleasures’ by Laura Mulvey, she states that the male figure cannotbear the burden of sexual gratification’ and that ‘the man’s role as the activeone at advancing the story’12.
This is evident within Forrest Gump,as we see a main male protagonist taking control of the storyline by means ofthe narrative following his life story. This scene within Forrest Gump also features the use of assimilation in its generalsense of ‘to become or cause to become similar’13.Here we can take on the film’s audience’s viewpoint, which we can assume willbe predominately American citizens, thus we can accept the way in which theAmerican troops felt towards the Vietnamese soldiers, and America’s roleswithin the war between themselves and Vietnam in what was often referred to as ‘TheSecond Indochina War’. Within this war, more three million people lost theirlives until 1975, two years after President Richard Nixon ‘ordered thewithdrawal of US forces in 1973’14.
Within the film Rebecca, released in 1940, we see the story of a young bride, MrsDe Winters, tortured by the memory of her husband’s late wife, Rebecca. Duringthe film, Mrs De Winters goes to explore Rebecca’s room, a room which has beenkept exactly as it were before she died, which in itself is strange, as it sitsnot really as a tribute, but more of an obsessive shrine ruled by the equallyas strange housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. As Mrs De Winters climbs the stairs toenter Rebecca’s room, the music embodies a shimmering effect, possiblyportraying her nerves, as she knows it is something which would be frowned uponby the housekeeper, and quite possibly her husband too. Upon entering her room,a glossy, uplifting solo on the harp seems to reoccur, which Peter Franklinrefers to as ‘spectacular and aural pleasure’15.This motif could be interpreted as though it is a physical embodiment ofRebecca. This helps to further the audience’s interpretation of the scene, asthis motif is warm and luxurious, whilst seeming joyful, thus creating a judgementwithin the audience of Rebecca as awarm and luxurious person.
This motif is seemingly non-diegetic, as it takes onan almost paranormal persona, as if the music is a ghostly embodiment ofRebecca herself. However, a contemporary film critic may argue that the musicis diegetic, as its presence is so strong that it forces the audience to questionwhether Rebecca is actually dead, or whether Mrs Danvers’ sadistic nature isexploiting Mrs De Winters’ naïve, gentle appearance and nature for her ownpleasure. Later in the scene, we see Mrs Danversenter. Mrs De Winters is startled by a thud from the window, where a large gustof wind enters and brings the net curtain in with it. The audience is madeaware of the authority of the housekeeper immediately, as the music changesfrom the perspective of Rebecca, to that of Mrs Danvers, almost as though ithas been snatched from her, as she takes control.
Mrs Danvers seems to adopt acontrolling manner, as she ‘stage manages the effects’16within the room. We see an example of this when she opens the curtains toreveal the light outside into ‘the loveliest room you’ve ever seen’. Here, hercontrolling nature is revealed again to the audience, ultimately forcing themusic to portray her as menacing and cruel. This brings with it a wave ofanxiety and menace, as the audience see Mrs Danvers put gradual emotionalpressure on Mrs De Winters, forcing the music to swell and become too much. Here,the music could be foreshadowing a darker event to come, as the menacing natureof the low bass brings about feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. MrsDanvers is revealed to the audience as being almost obsessive and controllingabout Rebecca, as she shows Mrs De Winters her underwear drawer, and hints at asexual relationship between herself and Rebecca.
The physical appearance of thecharacters within this scene may have a direct link to the way the music isinterpreted, as Mrs De Winters is dressed in naïve, loose, pretty clothing, ultimatelyreflecting her personality to be slightly naïve, yet lovely. Whilst Mrs Danversis presented as powerful, as she dons black, straight, tight clothes, whichphysically suggest that she is not afraid to be bold, as black colours, in termsof clothing, carry authority and power. However, the fact that Mrs Danvers is ahousekeeper contradicts her assumption of power within this scene, as shetechnically works for Mrs De Winters and her husband, yet she is bold andsadistic enough to push her to distress with no remorse. This furthers themusic’s menacing nature, ultimately furthering the audience’s destructive viewof Mrs Danvers and her sadistic nature. In conclusion, film music’s universal natureallows for a non-universal interpretation as, as an audience, we are highly influential,especially with the opinions of music and film.
This suggests that we are notfree to fully experience a film when watching it. Diegesis has its own part toplay within this, as it carries the ability to manipulate the drama unfoldingon the screen through the music. 1 www.oxforddictionaries.com , film music2 http://filmsound.org/terminology/diegetic.htmDiegetic Sound article3 Anahid Kasabian, Hearing Film, page 304 https://tagg.org/mmmsp/10Titles.htmlTagg and Clarida Study, 2003, Phillip Tagg and Bob Clarida5 https://muse.jhu.edu/article/266904/summaryShannon Palma, Marvels & Tales, Volume 23, Number 1, page 193, 20096 http://wmst2010.blogspot.co.uk/2008/04/disneys-enchanted-released-in-2007.htmlFeminine Analysis, 2008, Several Contributors7 A Cradle Song, William Blake, Songs of Innocence, 17898 Holy Thursday (Innocence), William Blake, Songs of Innocence, 17899 Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures, page 1810 https://www.army.mod.uk/structure/32321.aspxBritish Army Structure article11 https://www.army.mod.uk/structure/32321.aspxBritish Army Structure article12 Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures, page 2013 https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/assimilate’Assimilation’ British Definition14 http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-historyVietnam War, 2009, Hisory.com staff15 Peter Franklin, Seeing Through Music, 2015, page 7816 Peter Franklin, Seeing Through Music, 2015, page 79