Saturday, May 31, 2008


I presented my paper on Vertigo this afternoon at the Music and the Moving Image conference here in lovely NYC (a beautiful day spent inside in the dark, but interesting at least). If you want to see any of it (including me!), you can see it online for a limited time:

The hot button topic this year is diegetic and non-diegetic. I heard two excellent and thoughtful papers on the subject. Jeff Smith's keynote wanted to expand the idea of diegetic, noting how directors stylize mise-en-scene, like colors, light, dialogue, or even the set itself in Dogville, but one never doubts the diegeticness of these elements, and that music is similarly shifted temporally or spacially in ways that serve the narrative function. David Neumeyer had an excellent response, centering on Atonement, exploring the ways in which diegetic and nondiegetic interact, and ways in which they're grounded. For me, it seems like the issue is one that approaches will vary with each film. Consider another way I've thought about this: a diegetic musical cue that is at odds with the scene, ironic contrast between a song on the radio and the action you see. That lack of cohesion is bound to call attention to the artifice, artifice which would render that otherwise perfectly diegetic music into the world of nondiegetic, as imposed upon the scene. It's a fascinating topic, with plenty of shall we say passion directed at the subject, but ultimately one that I feel will resist one paradigm, settling instead on different ways to understand the differences.

My talk was on the prelude to Vertigo, and I'm pleased to say I got a couple interesting and helpful sources, and many appreciated compliments on the paper. But afterwards, I got the one question I always fear in part because it's a valid question, and in part because there's no answer. The question of whether any of this was intended. And certainly Herrmann was no novice at music, and I'm sure several of the large scale things were deliberate choices. But the dilemma is that when you interpret it, you'll never know. And to deny anything you can't be sure of is to paralyze musicology. And there's certainly something to the issue of reception, that it's at least as valuable as authorial intent. But there is that desire, lurking underneath, to have the two match up, to faithfully find what was put there on purpose, and to know that it means something. It's like getting in on the in-joke. But the joy isn't really in knowing, it's in the finding, the uncovering of the music. I'd much rather discover the intent after discovering the music. Discovering the intent without the music is meaningless, discovering the music is everything.


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