Musical Moments in Film Essay Example

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Musical Moments in Film


Often, music is not consciously recorded in the mind of the viewer based on the fact that it remains as what Claudia Gorman refers to as the‘’ unheard melody.’’ According to Herzog (2010), customarily, music acts as a subordinate constituent in narrative film by supplementing the image to guide the emotional responses of the audience to what they see on the screen. It is essential to take note that although the integration of music into film is unnoticed, its impacts are profound. In recent decades, there are many circumstances when music is incorporated into film, it stabilizes the image and secures meaning. The music then becomes a dominant force in the work developing a musical moment. This paper seeks to examine two musical moments as defined by Amy Herzog and the impact of the musical moments to the narrative of two films; American Honey (2016) a drama road film and La La Land (2016) a romantic musical film.

Herzog (2010), examines various types and definitions of musical moments. One description that is articulated by the author is a unique type of musical moment that depends on a popular song/ music which inverts the image sound hierarchy to occupy the dominant position in a filmic work. She examines the Jukebox musical as an example of a musical moment that adopts popular songs that were earlier released by popular artists. Kassabian (2001), divulges that during the 1980s, the number of films that scored with popular music soundtracks rose dramatically. Films from different genres used top soundtracks. It is apparent that the trend exists in contemporary films. A case in point is the American honey a drama which uses popular soundtracks such a ‘’ We Found Love” by Rihanna and Calvin Harris Grace. Other songs include ‘’I Don’t Dance by Lee Brice and ‘’Ride’’ by Ciara and Ludacris.

It can be argued that the musical moments in the movie American Honey impact the film narrative in various ways. Foremost, it can be debated that the musical moments that involves the integration of popular music into the storyline supports the systematic use of the narrative style or framework to explain the entire storyline. For instance, in the film; American Honey the musical moments are incorporated at the beginning of the movie during the exposition phase where the main character Star meets Jakes. This establishes the tone of the movie. The Song ‘’we found love’’ by Rihanna and Calvin Harris is played in the background. Also, during the rising action phase where the main character is entangled with hopelessness and does not feel like anyone cares, the musical moment is characterized by rap tracks such as Rae Sremmurd’s “No Type” and Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck with You” are played. Also, during the falling action stage and the resolution phase the Song ‘’we found love’’ by Rihanna and Calvin Harris is introduced. Based on this fact, it is apparent that the musical moments in the film American Honey support the systematic use of the narrative style or framework in telling the events of the story.

Another issue that arises from the film is the idea that the musical moments from popular songs make the narrative captivating and manipulate the responses of the audience towards the film. In the movie the American Honey, we see the main character Star meeting Jakes and at a store after which their encounter is endowed by the musical moment. Also, when Star finally trusts Jake, the musical moment is integrated. The sound track by Rihanna and Calvin Harris is played in most sections of the plot. It is apparent that the song by the famous artists is enjoyed by many young audience. As a result, it is bound to capture the attention of the viewers and to create a liking for the storyline. In addition, the track was released prior to the production of the movie. The song ‘’ We found love’’ is a trending song since 2011 and many young people are familiar with the lyrics. According to Kassabian. (2001), newly composed music that are integrated into musicals seek to manipulate the reactions of the audiences. In essence, one can argue that the incorporation of the song by the famous artists makes the narrative more enchanting which further sways the viewers into loving the narrative of the movie if they like the song.

An in-depth analysis of the musical in the film American Honey discloses the existing relationship between music and image. In the context of the jukebox films that were produced in the 1980s, there was a discord between the music and the image displayed. This is because the producers used a famous song in the background that did not match the events or images presented in a particular scene of the narrative. For instance, even though a song was heard in the background, the actions taking place had little connection to the lyrics. According to Herzog (2010), this disconnection, problematises the relationship between image-music which results in the variations in the process of illustrations allowing a group of parallel discourses. It is, therefore, important for synergy to exist between music and image (Reay, 2004). The movie American Honey, however, introduces the notion that relationship between music – image can be synergetic. When critically examined, a viewer can take note of the fact that the music used and the images are related. For instance, when Star finally meets Jake in a store, we see Jake dancing to the background music as he tries to get Star’s attention. The song is basically appropriate for the scene because it highlights the connection between music and image.

The second definition of musical moments that is presented by Herzog (2010) involves defining musical moments not it terms of their characteristics but rather what it does. Herzog (2010), posits that some of the key functions include an inclination towards thematic excessiveness, aesthetic as well as the capacity to interrupt linear flow. At the same time, the musical moments can act as a disruptive force that renders filmic texts open to new types of configurations and external assemblage; it can also lead to a more conservative end.

The award-winning film La La Land falls in the second definition where musical moments are used to display specific functions in the film. One of the roles of the musical moments in the film is to display the aesthetic attributes that exist in the entire narrative (Vernallis, 2013). It can be stated that La La Land uses musical moments that display aesthetics which further impact on the narrative of the story. It is true that the entire narrative of the movie is engulfed with beauty that is like a dream. The musical moments bring out this exquisiteness. Consequently, it can be argued that the musical in this genre contribute to the beauty of the storyline.

Also, it can also be indicated that the musical moments in La La Land are able to challenge the human conceptions of time and space. The film introduces a factual musical perception of Loss Angeles in the 1940s. The viewer is able to conceptualize how the city used to be in the 1940s, yet when one looks beyond the scenes, one can develop the feel of contemporary times in 2016 (Barber, 2016). The movie discloses the fact that the musicals in Hollywood did not die with the collapse of the studio system and the rise of other types of musical genre, but rather it reintroduces the fact that Hollywood musicals are timeless. The musical moments, therefore, play the significant role of transcending the narrative beyond time and space.

According to Dyer (2002), in his publication Entertainment and Utopia, it can be noted that musical moments offer a form of utopia whereby it provides hope that wishes can actually be realized. Compositions such as Let’s Face the Music» and ‘’it’s Always Fair Weather’ ’are used to display a sense of possibility that may occur in the relationship between Mia and Sebastian, despite the fact that Mia is married to another man. The use of the musical moments provides a positive tone to the narrative.

In the context of La La Land, the integration musical moments into the film does not change the direction of the narrative. The narrative shifts into song and then transcends to narrative, the acting or performance continues proceeds.

A Reflection of the Findings in Terms of Genre Specificity

From the above discussion, the two genres; American Honey (2016) a drama road film and La La Land (2016) a romantic musical film can be differentiated. It is important to note that the application of musical moments in each genre varies. In the context of La La Land which is romantic musical, song takes a dramatic presence and interrupts linear flow. The story uses a non-linear approach to create a bridge between the present and the past. Altman (2002), posits that all musicals have the same underlying structure which is the dual focus which downplays the plots linear progression (Cohan, 2002). On the other hand, in the film; American Honey (2016) a drama road film, song does not take the central role in the narrative a factor that limits the use of music to build the narrative in nonmusical genres.


The paper underscores the fact that musical moments have a significant impact of the narratives of diverse film genres. Through an evaluation of two genres; American Honey (2016) a drama road film and La La Land (2016) a romantic musical film, the discussion was able to divulge that musical moments can impact the narratives of films. In conclusion, this paper projects that there will be an increased integration of musical moments in future films.


Altman, R. (2002) The American Film Musical as Dual-Focus Narrative in Steven Cohan( ed). Hollywood Musicals, The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, pp 41-51.

American Honey (2016).

Barber, N. (2016). Oscar glory predicted for romantic, nostalgic La La Land. BBC.

Cohan, S. (2002) Hollywood Musicals, the Film Reader. Psychology Press.

Dyer, R. (2002/1977) ‘Entertainment and Utopia’ in Steven Cohan (ed.) Hollywood Musicals, The Film Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 19–30.

Herzog, A. (2010) ‘The Musical Moment’ in Dreams of Difference, Songs of the Same: The Musical Moment in Film. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kassabian, K (2001). How music works in Film, in hearing film, tracking identification, contemporary Hollywood Film Music. New York: Routledge, pp 37-60.

La La Land (2016)

Reay, P. (2004) Music in Film: Soundtracks and Synergy. Wallflower Press.

Vernallis, C. (2013), ‘Accelerated Aesthetics: A New Lexicon of Time, Space, and Rhythm’ in Carol Vernallis, Amy Herzog & John Richardson (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 707–731.