Giulia Bigongiari

Panel 6E: Transcoding Music, Sound and Literature
Session 6 – July 3, 15:30 – 17:30

On Song Performance Scenes in Non-Musical Films

I propose to analyse a small corpus of song performance scenes in fictional films, such as Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davies (2013), Petzold’s Phoenix (2014), Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner (2014), Paperniak’s Izzy Gets The F*** Across Town (2018). These films are not ‘musicals’; with the exception of the Coens’s film, they only present one scene where one or several characters play and/or sing. The pieces of music performed have not been written specifically for the film; they are pre-existing, more or less well-known works. I will argue that these scenes are usually employed to convey a sense of emotional intimacy achieved between characters with otherwise problematic relationships; when the music performance scene does not enable characters to reach a newly found harmony, it means that their relationship is definitely broken. I will argue that this use of music performance scenes partly depends on ideas about “music” as a medium especially associated with emotional closeness (Pinotti 2011), as a place of honesty and intimacy. As this emotional effect relies upon notions about “music” as a medium, inserting a song performance scene in a nonmusical film is not only an instance of intermediality as “media combination” (Rajewsky 2005: 51), but also in the sense of “intermedial reference”, that is, the process of referring “… to a specific medial subsystem (such as a certain film genre) or to another medium qua system” (Rajewsky 2005: 52). I will suggest that the emotional power of these scenes also depends on the fact that they allow us to visualize and experience the co-operative aspect of the process of making art (an idea typical of reader-response criticism, for example Iser 1978). I will propose that music performance scenes share this aspect with other scenes which involve interpersonal creative moments (such as poem reciting, or painting).


Giulia Bigongiari earned her MA in English Literature from the University of Pisa with a thesis on the relationship between George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of L’Aquila, with a research project on negative empathy. Topics of interest include Victorian and Modernist Literature, Queer Studies, and Empathy Studies.