The Presentation of Culture and Identity in the Contemporary Film Musical Soundtrack
: An Exploration of Moulin Rouge! and Burlesque

  • Hannah Clewes

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Film musicals convey meaning through soundtrack in ways that no other film genre can. This audio performance space, in which deeper thoughts and emotions are performed in such revealing and intimate ways, allows for levels of expression above that which can be achieved through words alone, or through music ascribed to a character with which they cannot interact. In contemporary musical films particularly, this space has come to be occupied by explorations of culture and identity, as investigated in this thesis.

This study analyses the presentation of culture and identity in the soundtracks of two contemporary movie musicals: Moulin Rouge! (Luhrmann, 2001) and Burlesque (Antin, 2010). Particularly focusing on performing masculinities and femininities, the project explores how gender identity is presented, as well as sexuality and race. In a modern
context, these are more widely represented due to a society-wide focus on representation, inclusivity and acceptance. By studying existing literature, alongside the exploration of contemporary case studies, this project draws conclusions on identity and culture based on many theoretical models, including film, music and queer theory.

The analysis shows that many factors influence the messages conveyed through soundtrack, such as vocality, vocal quality and the context of a pre-existing song, and that these particularly influence how messages are interpreted by the listener. The research also shows how other factors influence how the soundtrack is interpreted, such as the role of celebrity, stereotyping, and the aesthetic look of the film. This research demonstrates the possibility for further research into the role of both compiled and composed soundtracks in
contemporary film musicals, as the popularity of the genre grows, and filmmakers approach scoring identity in new and refreshing ways.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCatherine Haworth (Main Supervisor)

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