Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Musical Wallpaper?

Towards an Appreciation of Non-narrating Music in Film

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2012), 6, (1), 39–54.

Abstract

In this article, I suggest that the narratological model of film music offered by Claudia Gorbman's seminal work Unheard Melodies (1987) becomes problematic when we consider more closely a distinction made by narratologist Gérard Genette between narrating and narrative - between the signifier and the narrating act that produces it. Arguing that most music encountered in film ‘unscrolls’ (to use a term offered by Carolyn Abbate [1991]) as part of a narrative rather than constituting a narrating act, I highlight older conceptions of film music that may be in line for a reappraisal, namely those offered by Stravinsky (Dahl 2010) and Copland (1949). Though not always complimentary about the music's aesthetic value, they offer us the possibility of an alternative perspective - one that encourages us to think of film music's expressive qualities and its ability to shape environments from within the narrative, rather than considering it the external bearer of the narrating act itself. I explore this new-old notion using a scene from Hugo Friedhofer's score to The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946).

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Winters, Ben