The Figure of the Musician in the Cinema
Call for Articles
Savoirs en Prisme, no 15, 2022, “The Figure of the Musician in the Cinema”
Edited by: Bénédicte Brémard, Stéphan Etcharry and Julie Michot
Although pianists (and even organists) left the movie theaters during the silent era, musicians have become a recurrent topic of cinema. One famous example is the first “sound” feature film, The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927), whose hero is also an instrumentalist. Background and source music have already been the subject of numerous in-depth studies. This is why Issue 15 of Savoirs en Prisme will focus more specifically on the musician, a figure that can be found in all national cinemas. The character is featured in many recent biopics focusing on jazz, flamenco, variety or pop-rock music (The Doors, Oliver Stone, 1991; Ray, Taylor Hackford, 2005; Camarón, Jaime Chávarri, 2005; La Vie en Rose, Olivier Dahan, 2007; Dalida, a television film by Joyce Buñuel, 2005 and a film by Lisa Azuelos, 2017; Django, Étienne Comar, 2017; Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer, 2018; Rocketman, Dexter Fletcher, 2019) as well as in older movies depicting the life and work of classical composers (La Symphonie fantastique, Christian-Jaque, 1942; The Music Lovers, Ken Russell, 1969; Mahler, Ken Russell, 1974; Amadeus, Miloš Forman, 1984; Impromptu, James Lapine, 1991; Immortal Beloved, Bernard Rose, 1994). Such films seem to consolidate human myths, sometimes living ones. In such works, the emotional charge of music can outweigh that of the image, and because fiction must be more attractive than the banality of everyday life, the filmed biography of illustrious musicians adopts a tone that is reminiscent of their compositions. As Simon Callow puts it, “It is a reasonable expectation that the events depicted in the life of Beethoven should be Beethovenian, that Chopin’s should be Chopinesque, Tchaikovsky’s Tchaikovskian. In reality, their lives rarely reflected their music. So the lives are bent, adjusted, manipulated to achieve the desired effect.” When it comes to fictional musicians, however, it is no longer the question of the legitimacy of the subject matter that is central, but rather that of the articulation between diegetic music and dramatic tension, of the musician’s place within a given society and his/her public persona. Indeed, the figure of the musician is to be found in the works of directors as diverse as Carl Theodor Dreyer (Gertrud, 1964), Werner Fassbinder (Lili Marleen, 1981), Radu Mihaileanu (The Concert, 2009), Satyajit Ray (The Music Room, 1958), Carlos Saura (¡Ay, Carmela!, 1990), John Schlesinger (Madame Sousatzka, 1989), Martin Scorsese (New York, New York, 1977), Giuseppe Tornatore (The Legend of 1900, 1998) and François Truffaut (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960).
In keeping with the multidisciplinary approach favored by the journal, this call for articles is open to colleagues from a variety of theoretical backgrounds. There are no restrictions in terms of period, geographical or cultural area, or style of music addressed. All approaches will be considered (musicological, historical, civilizational, sociological, aesthetic, psychological, etc.) as well as interdisciplinary approaches, of course. Contributions may address the following issues in this non-exhaustive list:
- the figure of the musician in films by the same director, such as Ingmar Bergman (Music in Darkness, 1948; To Joy, 1950; All These Women, 1964; Autumn Sonata, 1978);
- the treatment of a particular character of instrumentalist by directors from a variety of cultural areas (The Violin Player, Charles Van Damme, 1994; The Red Violin, François Girard, 1998; Together, Chen Kaige, 2002; The Violin, Francisco Vargas, 2005; Chicken With Plums, Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud, 2011; The Violin Teacher, Sérgio Machado, 2015; The Audition, Ina Weisse, 2019);
- the figures of the musician, commonly associated with a particular film genre (thriller, detective, espionage, horror, romance, comedy, etc.);
- the links between the diegetic music produced by a character of singer, instrumentalist or conductor, and the light or burlesque tone of the story or, on the contrary, its dramatic resonance—including considerations of the ensuing relationship between source music and background music that the figure’s presence produces (The Conductor, Andrzej Wajda, 1980; Sopyonje, Im Kwon-taek, 1993; The Piano, Jane Campion, 1993; The Piano Teacher, Michael Haneke, 2001; Tokyo Sonata, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008);
- the political power of music (The Pianist, Roman Polanski, 2002) and the use of musicians or groups, fictitious or not, as spokespersons of protest movements, whether for women’s rights (in One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, Agnès Varda, 1977), against the actions of an actual government (that of Margaret Thatcher in Brassed Off, Mark Herman, 1996), or those of a regime in which freedom, especially artistic freedom, is under threat (Franco’s Spain in The Things of Love, Jaime Chávarri, 1989; present-day Iran in No One Knows About Persian Cats, Bahman Ghobadi, 2009);
- the musician’s status in society and/or the microcosm in which he or she evolves, as well as the imaginary tied to his or her figure (Orchestra Rehearsal, Federico Fellini, 1978);
- the choice of the music itself to characterize the musicians on screen: versions and selected excerpts of pre-existing music; representativeness of this music; arrangements, adaptations, musical rewritings; dialogues and interactions between this music and other pre-existing music, but also between pre-existing music and original music; blending, cultural transfers, musical crossovers, to underline confrontations or fusions of cultures and identities;
- the problems of plausibility that can arise when actors are not themselves musicians, and the technical constraints related to the use of dubbing or even a body double (the mise en abyme in Quién te cantará, Carlos Vermut, 2018), as well as the need for some performers to train for several months before shooting (fingering, air intake, breath support, instrumental gesture, vocal gesture, body language, tics, facial expressions, etc.);
- the questions of historical authenticity, especially when a film is intended to be the faithful account of a musician’s life—or, in specific cases, when a film features a “semi-fictional” musician, whether a false biopic (Sweet and Lowdown, Woody Allen, 1999) or biographical elements hidden under fiction (Chico & Rita, Fernando Trueba, 2010);
- the adaptation of novels in which music plays a privileged role, in order to examine the relations and contrasts between the place of music in the original literary text and in the film.
Instructions for Authors
Submissions should include a 200-word abstract and a short bio including the author’s institution and e-mail address. They are due by December 15, 2020 and should be sent to all three editors:
Bénédicte Brémard (firstname.lastname@example.org),
Stéphan Etcharry (email@example.com) and
Julie Michot (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Languages: French, Spanish and English.
- 15 June 2021: articles submission deadline.
- 31 October 2021: anonymous reviews sent to authors.
- 15 December 2021: revised articles due.
- First semester 2022: online publication of Issue 15 of the journal Savoirs en Prisme.
Articles should not exceed a maximum length of 50,000 characters (including spaces, notes and bibliography).
Authors should conform to the guidelines of the journal as set out on its website: https://savoirsenprisme.com/soumettre-un-article/note-aux-auteurs/to-submit-an-article/
 Simon Callow, “Foreword”, in John C. Tibbetts, Composers in the Movies, New Haven & London, Yale University Press, “Studies in Musical Biography” Series, 2005, p. xi.