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June 1995, Week 4


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 25 Jun 1995 18:52:05 -0600
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Krin Grabbard writes:
"Just to expand a little the ongoing discussion of matters
diegetic, I would like to ask my colleagues to help me construct
an informal history of film soundtracks in which diegetic music
seems to become extradiegetic. . . . "
I suspect that this kind of motif is actually pretty common--especially with
diegetic music eventually melding into a nondiegetic background.   If I
remember correctly, some of the music from car radios in A BRONX TALE does
this and there are many more lurking in my mind without being more specific.
A borderline case that is also fairly common is when the source of the music
is apparently diegetic, but its loudness and timbre cause it to function as
a kind of rhythmic background or verbal commentary on the action that is
"overdetermined" in meaning.  AMERICAN GRAFITTI is probably the best-known
example, where all the songs are apparently on the car radios all tuned to
Wolfman Jack, but where they often seem to comment on various points in the
action--eg. Richard Dreyfuss on the hood of the car being confronted by the
gang members as the Big Bopper begins "Chantilly Lace" with "HELL-OOH, Bay-be!"
DIRTY DANCING is another example of this clever use of diegetic music--almost
all the songs in some way speak about the actions of the characters, eg. when
Jennifer Gray brings money for an abortion to the resort dancer, the song
"Stay!" is in the background and we hear "Your daddy won't mind, and your mama
won't mind."
On a related note (I hope), there's an interesting double (triple?) take on
diegetic/non-diegetic at the beginning of FRENCH KISS, which I just saw this
weekend.  Meg Ryan plays a woman with a terminal fear of flying, who is talking
(rather loudly) about how terrified she is while in a plane seat, supposedly on
her way from Toronto to Paris.  The intercom comes on with an attendant's voice
giving the standard instructions about buckling seat belts and putting seats and
trays in an upright position.  Then the same voice addresses Ryan personally,
asking her if she's remembered to visualize her place of peace (a stone cottage
on a hillside) and her mantra and engages in dialogue with the character.
Ah, I thought at first hearing, this is now lapsing into *internal* diegetic
sound--and we're witness to Ryan's fantasy conversation as she tries to calm
herself.  But the next thing we know, Ryan has totally panicked, bolted to
the airplane door and opened it, apparently in mid-air, only to tumble to the
ground of a building.  The whole thing, it turns out, was a flight simulation
that was part of a behavioral conditioning therapy (that worked none too well
for her--she did get a refund!).
To return to the original question, it might be useful to look at those films
from the 1940s that often played on (and played up) a particular theme that
would eventually sell as a popular song (often adapted from a classical music
source)--TIL THE END OF TIME is one example.  There was a good discussion of
some of these uses of music in the AMC special on movie music that ran earlier
this month.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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