Rethinking the Diegetic-Nondiegetic Distinction in the Film Musical
Motion picture music
Sound in motion pictures
History and criticism
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AbstractThis paper exposes problems with the diegetic/nondiegetic distinction as a means of describing film-musical numbers. Tracing the use of these terms from Plato to present-day cinema studies, the author identifies a divergence of meaning between scholarship on film musicals and that directed toward non-musical films. Film-musical scholars' idiosyncratic use of these terms not only poses obstacles to effective scholarly dialogues across film genres but also leads to logical problems when the standard criteria for diegetic status are combined with the realism criterion presupposed by most scholars of film musicals. As an alternative means of describing differences between film-musical numbers, the author proposes two scalar concepts. One tracks the number's degree of realism in terms of its dramatic context, performers' skill levels and preparation, identification of a fictional source for its accompaniment, and visual effects. The other measures the performance's degree of formality and intended function. At the formal end of the spectrum, there are numbers with a strict separation of performers and audience members, where the performance is intended primarily for aesthetic appreciation or entertainment. On the other end are spontaneous performances that are intended primarily for communicative or expressive purposes, which often have no fictional audience aside from the performers. In between these extremes lie communal performances, in which audience members tend to become performers in the course of the number. Such songs and dances are intended as much for community building or cheering loved ones as for aesthetic appreciation or entertainment.
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