"I Remember Clearly Everything that Happened that Night...": Voiceover, Music and Subjectivity in Classical Hollywood

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Diegetic voiceover narration has a striking, powerful, and often disruptive presence in narrative cinema. It can naturalise the story's source whilst simultaneously drawing attention to its constructed nature, and it possesses an immediacy and authority that privileges the subjectivity and related agency of the ‘author’-narrator. Despite the connections posited by scholars between subjective sound and female characters, the majority of narrators in Hollywood film are men. Although this would seem to reinforce the dominance of male experience in classical cinema, closer examination of the interplay between narration and the film score reveals a complex and often shifting relationship between subjectivity, gendered representation, and the soundtrack.
This paper will discuss various ways in which the presence of voiceover narration engages with music in crime films released by RKO Radio Pictures during the 1940s, drawing on examples from Experiment Perilous (d. Tourneur; c. Webb, 1944), The Locket (d. Brahm; c. Webb, 1946), and Out of the Past (d. Tourneur; c. Webb, 1947). These films make prominent use of complex flashback and voiceover sequences, and their narrative subjectivity is reflected in scores that engage with problematic issues of agency and identity in ways that both challenge and reinforce dominant readings of gender, inaudibility, and ownership in the classical-era soundtrack.
Period6 Sep 2011
Event titleFilm Music Conference: Celebrating the Centennials of Bernard Herrmann and Nino Rota
Event typeConference
LocationLeeds, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational