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Popping the question: the function and effect of popular music in cinema

  • Hilary Lapedis


Claudia Gorbman, in her afterword to Unheard Melodies, looks forward to the ‘new’ phenomenon of the increased use of recorded popular music in the movies. She questions whether the contemporary use of popular music is essentially different from its use in the traditional Hollywood musical, wherein conventional practice permits a musical number to disrupt the narrative flow, and answers that ‘a hybrid is emerging, unlike diegetic music which is normally not listened to, and also not as focused as musical numbers issuing from the magic world of the musical’ (Gorbman 1987, p.162). Certainly, the music video, as Gorbman admits, in its ‘kaleidoscope of forms’ (ibid.) is changing the relationship between visuals and music, so that there is no longer a habitual hierarchy of sound supporting image, or vice versa. It is this shifting relationship and the way in which pop music specifically operates upon the narrative structure of cinema that I wish to explore here.



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Andrew, J. Dudley. 1976. The Major Film Theories: An Introduction (Oxford)
Bjornberg, Alf. 1994. ‘Structural relationships of music and images in music video’, Popular Music, 13, 1, pp. 5174
Brown, Royal S. 1994. Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music (Berkeley, CA)
Frith, Simon. 1989. Music For Pleasure (Cambridge)
Gorbman, Claudia. 1987. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (Bloomington & Indianapolis)
Jensen, J.F. 1988. ‘… AND NOW … THIS’, in Kultur, identitet og kommunikation, ed. Nielsen, H.J. (Aalborg), pp. 732
Romney, Jonathan and Wootton, Adrian. 1995. Celluloid Jukebox: Popular Music and the Movies since the 50s (London).
Walker, Martin. 1994. ‘Making saccharine taste sour’, Sight and Sound, 4, 10, pp. 1617
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Popular Music
  • ISSN: 0261-1430
  • EISSN: 1474-0095
  • URL: /core/journals/popular-music
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