Film unpleasant step mother to New York City, where

Film music can be defined as music ‘used in
a film to accompany the action and create atmosphere’1.

Film music itself, in its above definition, is universal, however its
interpretation is not, as it only exists within language. This may mean that
what we understand about film music is influenced by individuals’ opinions of
both general music and film music, and even their opinion of the particular
film, thus informing our understanding and how we then go on to interpret
scenes. 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 the
freer 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 is
being made for us.

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Diegesis in its musical definition has been
referred to as ‘sound whose source is visible on the screen implied to be
present by the action of the film’2.

This implies that it carries the ability to manipulate the narrative of the
scene through the music. When referring to her findings within her study of the
Tagg and Clarida study, Anahid Kasabian states that she found their listeners
to have ‘predominantly associated certain ideas, such as tranquillity, with
women, or strength with men’3.

Within the Tagg and Clarida study, the documentation is focused on several
hundreds of participants’ response to ten extracts of music played as film or
television title music, without ‘visual accompaniment’4.

This result, to a modern film critic, may seem to provoke ideas of gender
stereotyping 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 ‘naïve
young woman’5
who is due to marry a prince, banished by her unpleasant step mother to New
York City, where she proceeds to fall in love with a lawyer. The film itself
takes 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 with
animals and household chores, and Edward, the Prince, is associated with riding
his ‘noble steed’ into battle and saving Giselle, a relationship which today many
would be criticised if it were ‘in the real world’6.

In the first scene, we see Giselle building her ‘true love’ out of household
objects. Whilst she ponders on what material to use to create his lips, a swarm
of young animals come to her rescue, and she uses her singing voice to call for
help from more animals. Here we see the association between female characters
and animals, possibly suggesting that females are supposed to be more maternal,
thus adding to the juxtaposition between the male and female characters, and contributing
towards gender stereotyping. This idea is furthered when the arguably diegetic
music is introduced in ‘True Love’s Kiss’. This song features Giselle longing
for a ‘true love’ of her own, and leads to her later confessing her love for Prince
Edward, which she finds is requited, despite the fact they have never
previously met. The song initially starts as an opportunity for Giselle to
explain 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 that
everybody 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 closer
to nature come into play again, as Giselle dreams about her future of belonging
to a man. Here, the music sits diegetically within the scene, thus helping the
film’s interpretation be one of a more gender stereotypical one. The fact that
the instrumentation features the light, airy, soft music of flutes and violins
for 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. This
can be furthered by William Blake’s belief that all children are born pure, and
it 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 ‘happy
and ‘little boys and girls raising their innocent hands’8
to convey his feelings of children and animals being closer to nature, as they
have not yet been tainted by the harsh realities of life.


‘True Love’s Kiss’ becomes a duet when
Prince Edward enters riding a horse, followed by a triumphant brass fanfare
within the orchestral music. The fact that Giselle is accompanied predominantly
by flutes, clarinets and violins, yet Prince Edward takes on a brass section
layered over an orchestra becomes a further indication of the gender
stereotyping within this scene, as the brass section embodies a large, strong
sound, whilst the predominantly woodwind instruments create a smaller, smoother
sound. This may be reflecting the desirable, physical properties of a Prince as
being large and strong enough to rescue a Princess, and the desirable physical
properties of a Princess to be of a smaller and gracious, attractive young
woman who is appealing enough to be worth the hardship of the Prince during his
decision to save her. This affects the way in which the film music is
interpreted, as the large, rich brass section alongside the orchestra allows the
audience to believe the Prince is authoritative and powerful, yet the Princess
is meek and mild, and almost requires saving without even being in danger. A
contemporary 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 of
the film can be more easily interpreted, as can Giselle’s wish for a ‘True Love’s
Kiss’. The fact that this scene does not contain any non-diegetic links may further
highlight the genre of the film, being a musical. A contemporary film critic
may also suggest that this allows the audience to completely lose themselves
within the magic of the scene. The music may also reflect this, as it features
a dreamy music background reprised of an orchestra, with solos from the flute
and clarinet. This also reinforces Laura Mulvey’s theory that the cinema allows
a ‘temporary loss of ego, whilst simultaneously reinforcing it’9.


Gump was released in 1994, and follows the events
of a young man’s life, including his admission into the Army, and his success
at becoming a minor celebrity within the ping pong world. Within Forrest Gump, affiliation occurs as
Forrest and his fellow troops arrive in Vietnam and are being shown around
their camp. Affiliation within film music can be described as pre-known songs
bringing prior knowledge to a scene, as a piece or type of piece has already
been experienced by a film’s audience. This, however, does not give the narrow
identification that of an unknown piece would, thus creating a general
atmosphere. 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 the
scene doesn’t have the same ideological pull. Within this scene, the camp seems
very relaxed and features soldiers having barbecues, drinking beer and
maintaining a general feeling of fun and adventure. One of the songs which
features in these scenes of affiliation is ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin. This
use of affiliation may initially seem non-diegetic, as it the music does not
appear to come from anything physical within the scene, however a contemporary
film critic may suggest it has a diegetic link to the action which occurs
within the scene. The fact that the lyrics contain a semantic field of respect
and longing for admiration, could suggest a direct diegetic link to the fact
that the soldiers do not have to be told to respect Lieutenant Dan, they just
know to do it instinctively, as he belongs to a higher rank than themselves. A
lieutenant 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 large
theme within this scene. However, a contemporary film critic may suggest that
it could have been used ironically, to portray the sense of great adventure
that the relaxed, fun, testosterone fuelled atmosphere of the camp. The use of
this arguably non-diegetic music could be argued to be negative in its
affectation of the music within the film, as its uncertainty around the desired
meaning within the film’s usage of this may throw the audience into confusion
about 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 ‘Visual
and Other Pleasures’ by Laura Mulvey, she states that the male figure cannot
bear the burden of sexual gratification’ and that ‘the man’s role as the active
one 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 of
the narrative following his life story.


This scene within Forrest Gump also features the use of assimilation in its general
sense of ‘to become or cause to become similar’13.

Here we can take on the film’s audience’s viewpoint, which we can assume will
be predominately American citizens, thus we can accept the way in which the
American troops felt towards the Vietnamese soldiers, and America’s roles
within the war between themselves and Vietnam in what was often referred to as ‘The
Second Indochina War’. Within this war, more three million people lost their
lives until 1975, two years after President Richard Nixon ‘ordered the
withdrawal of US forces in 1973’14.


Within the film Rebecca, released in 1940, we see the story of a young bride, Mrs
De Winters, tortured by the memory of her husband’s late wife, Rebecca. During
the film, Mrs De Winters goes to explore Rebecca’s room, a room which has been
kept exactly as it were before she died, which in itself is strange, as it sits
not really as a tribute, but more of an obsessive shrine ruled by the equally
as strange housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. As Mrs De Winters climbs the stairs to
enter Rebecca’s room, the music embodies a shimmering effect, possibly
portraying her nerves, as she knows it is something which would be frowned upon
by the housekeeper, and quite possibly her husband too. Upon entering her room,
a glossy, uplifting solo on the harp seems to reoccur, which Peter Franklin
refers to as ‘spectacular and aural pleasure’15.

This motif could be interpreted as though it is a physical embodiment of
Rebecca. This helps to further the audience’s interpretation of the scene, as
this motif is warm and luxurious, whilst seeming joyful, thus creating a judgement
within the audience of Rebecca as a
warm and luxurious person. This motif is seemingly non-diegetic, as it takes on
an almost paranormal persona, as if the music is a ghostly embodiment of
Rebecca herself. However, a contemporary film critic may argue that the music
is diegetic, as its presence is so strong that it forces the audience to question
whether Rebecca is actually dead, or whether Mrs Danvers’ sadistic nature is
exploiting Mrs De Winters’ naïve, gentle appearance and nature for her own


Later in the scene, we see Mrs Danvers
enter. Mrs De Winters is startled by a thud from the window, where a large gust
of wind enters and brings the net curtain in with it. The audience is made
aware of the authority of the housekeeper immediately, as the music changes
from the perspective of Rebecca, to that of Mrs Danvers, almost as though it
has been snatched from her, as she takes control. Mrs Danvers seems to adopt a
controlling manner, as she ‘stage manages the effects’16
within the room. We see an example of this when she opens the curtains to
reveal the light outside into ‘the loveliest room you’ve ever seen’. Here, her
controlling nature is revealed again to the audience, ultimately forcing the
music to portray her as menacing and cruel. This brings with it a wave of
anxiety and menace, as the audience see Mrs Danvers put gradual emotional
pressure 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 nature
of the low bass brings about feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. Mrs
Danvers is revealed to the audience as being almost obsessive and controlling
about Rebecca, as she shows Mrs De Winters her underwear drawer, and hints at a
sexual relationship between herself and Rebecca. The physical appearance of the
characters within this scene may have a direct link to the way the music is
interpreted, as Mrs De Winters is dressed in naïve, loose, pretty clothing, ultimately
reflecting her personality to be slightly naïve, yet lovely. Whilst Mrs Danvers
is presented as powerful, as she dons black, straight, tight clothes, which
physically suggest that she is not afraid to be bold, as black colours, in terms
of clothing, carry authority and power. However, the fact that Mrs Danvers is a
housekeeper contradicts her assumption of power within this scene, as she
technically works for Mrs De Winters and her husband, yet she is bold and
sadistic enough to push her to distress with no remorse. This furthers the
music’s menacing nature, ultimately furthering the audience’s destructive view
of Mrs Danvers and her sadistic nature.


In conclusion, film music’s universal nature
allows 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 not
free to fully experience a film when watching it. Diegesis has its own part to
play within this, as it carries the ability to manipulate the drama unfolding
on the screen through the music.



1 , film music

Diegetic Sound article

3 Anahid Kasabian, Hearing Film, page 30

Tagg and Clarida Study, 2003, Phillip Tagg and Bob Clarida

Shannon Palma, Marvels & Tales, Volume 23, Number 1, page 193, 2009

Feminine Analysis, 2008, Several Contributors

7 A Cradle Song, William Blake, Songs of Innocence, 1789

8 Holy Thursday (Innocence), William Blake, Songs of Innocence, 1789

9 Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures, page 18

British Army Structure article

British Army Structure article

12 Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures, page 20

‘Assimilation’ British Definition

Vietnam War, 2009, staff

15 Peter Franklin, Seeing Through Music, 2015, page 78

16 Peter Franklin, Seeing Through Music, 2015, page 79