Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Outing the Score: Music, Narrative, and Collaborative Process in Little Ashes

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Outing the Score: Music, Narrative, and Collaborative Process in Little Ashes

Article excerpt

As part of his essay 'Film Music and Narrative Agency' Jerrold Levinson argued that the narrative function of nondiegetic music is principally to enable that which 'would not otherwise be true, or not to the same degree or with the same definiteness' (1996: 259). To demonstrate narrative agency, music must make a difference; the question Levinson asked was: 'would deleting music in a scene change its represented content?' (ibid: 259). This theorisation is part of a series of broader narratological debates concerning both the implied author and implied reader as discussed by Booth (1983); Bordwell (1985); Brannigan (1992); Chatman (1990); Kindt and Müller (2006); Lothe (2000); van Peer & Chatman (2001); Verstraten (2009); and many others. I do not wish to revisit these various multilayered arguments again here, but take it as a given that narrational effects are achieved by nondiegetic music, or as Levinson puts it: 'the music tells you how the presenter of the story regards the events being presented, or else how he would like you to regard them' (1996: 263).

It is important to note that, for Levinson, the intelligent agent of the story is not necessarily a real person but a narrator that is constructed by the audience; tensions exist between imagined narrators that are internal to the fiction as opposed to those who comment on the fiction externally. Levinson ultimately sought to clarify the agency to which film music is assigned by a comprehending viewer, with the aim of identifying how music makes a narrative difference.1 I want to extend this discussion by considering how filmmakers themselves, by which I mean the actual production team, discuss and explore some aspects of narrativity and subject position during the process of composing the score for a film. This intentionalist perspective will demonstrate how negotiations shape narrative representation in relation to gender and sexuality, particularly the depiction of gay male sex. Consequently, this article aims to bring together three under-researched strands in film musicology. The first is the role of music as a narrative agent, the second is the exploration of musical decision-making processes aligned to narrative, and the third is how these ideas impact upon sexual representation.

The focus for discussion is the feature film Little Ashes (Paul Morrison, 2009), which tells the story of the interweaving lives of the painter Salvador Dalí, poet Federico García Lorca, and filmmaker Luis Buñuel. As composer for the film I am uniquely equipped to bring an insider's experience to the discussion as an example of practice-led research. It is my contention that this will provide insights into the dynamics between intention, process, and outcome, revealing at times tensions between the creators' and audience's imagined narrator, an issue that is further complicated by the fact that the audience brings biographical expectations to the film's central characters. A selfreflexive approach immediately raises the question of how a composer can discuss his or her own work, in hindsight, without post-rationalisation or descending into anecdote. I will attempt to avoid this by establishing a clear theoretical framework that allows exploration of the perceptions of the agency of the music, particularly in relation to the disclosure of emotional truth. Though the score for the film features several oppositional binaries that Eve Sedgwick might have described as an epistemology of the closet (2008), these do not function to present homosexuality as an unstable, deviant, or perverse alternative to the fixed norm of heterosexuality, as is the case in a number of other films made for a mainstream cinema audience. The score for Little Ashes attempts to treat homosexual love in the same ways that heterosexual love is frequently represented in film. At the same time, the film's narrative strategy evades some representational challenges by inverting musical practices and reveals a basic societal confusion in the way sexuality is represented on-screen. …

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