Haworth, Catherine (2012) A bad town for blondes? Hollywood film music and inter-American politics in "The Leopard Man". In: Music and Music Technology Research Forum, March 2012, University of Huddersfield. (Unpublished)

The femme fatale is one of the most distinctive characters associated with 1940s Hollywood and is usually theorized as expressing anxieties about gendered roles and identities in the period around World War II. The soundtrack plays a significant role in communicating the femme fatale's criminal and sexual immorality, frequently drawing upon existing cultural stereotypes surrounding jazz, Latin music and 'non-Western' styles to articulate her difference. As research on Hollywood's use of jazz has demonstrated, highlighting otherness most commonly acts to marginalize and contain, but the fallen woman's difference can also be celebrated as a means of resistance to dominant ideologies and a site of audience engagement with subversive characters. Previously overlooked by film musicology, Latin cues act as a relatively ambiguous indicator of morality during this era, and are therefore particularly important in constructing the dual nature of female otherness. This flexibility is underpinned by broader changes in inter-American relations: the ongoing effects of 'Good Neighbor' policies, and various efforts to stress Allied collegiality during the War. Although still problematic, Latin characterizations are more nuanced and rounded in 1940s Hollywood (as film noir makes particularly apparent, given the frequency with which its protagonists visit Mexican and border-state locales).

The Leopard Man (d. Tourneur; c. Webb, 1943) demonstrates the interconnected nature of music's relationship with gendered and ethnic identity. The 'authenticity' of Clo-Clo's castanet dancing is used not only to demonstrate her charisma but also to justify her victimization at the hands of an emasculated, culturally imperialist murderer, acting to both construct and contain the agency of the femme fatale. This challenges notions of ownership and inaudibility in existing models of the classical score and reveals additional complexities in the engagement of film music with issues of identity and representation.

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email