Haworth, Catherine (2010) A voice with hormones: power, desire, and musical performance in 'A Woman's Secret'. In: School of Music Research Day, May 2010, University of Leeds. (Unpublished)

Diegetic performance by female characters in non-musical films has most often been theorised as creating moments of erotic spectacle, giving uninterrupted space for pleasurable looking rather than progressing other aspects of cinematic narrative. This model frequently overlooks not only the function and effect of the soundtrack in musical numbers like this, but also that they can be read, as scholars such as Richard Dyer and Adrienne McLean demonstrate, as providing moments of ‘resistance’ to the positioning of their performers elsewhere in the film. In 1940s Hollywood crime or noir films, these numbers are frequently performed by a femme fatale figure, linking cultural associations of criminal and/or moral deviancy with musical activity, and further complicating and extending the role of the soundtrack in relation to other elements of the film text. The impact of these musical sequences can therefore be far-reaching, affecting the position of the female performer in relation to the developing narrative, other characters, and the cinema audience.

These issues will be explored with reference to 'A Woman’s Secret' (d. Nicholas Ray, 1949). Both of the film’s female protagonists are singers, and moments of public and private musical performance are used to articulate, and help create, the complex and shifting relationships at the heart of the film. Contrasts in characterisation and narrative role are revealed and reinforced through song and the responses it engenders, and can be seen as representative of various approaches taken to the crime film’s female performer.

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