Music in Laura

932 words | 4 page(s)

This paper will discuss the film Laura’, made in 1944 and staring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Vicent Price. ‘Laura’ tells the story of woman who is presumed dead at the beginning of the movie, after a body if found, killed by shot gun blast to the face. As the investigation into her death procedes, the lead detective in charge of the finding her killer begins to fall in love with her himself and, immediately after this is obvious, Laura re-emerges and it comes to light that they body which was found, unrecognisable due to the nature of her death, was in fact that of another person. The climaxes as the Laura’s one time parter and patron, Lydeker, is revealed as the killer and attempts to kill her. Laura is saved by the intervention of the detective and the film ends as Lydker dies from a gun shot wound and describes her his ‘love.’

‘Laura’ is of the genre ‘film-noir’, and, as such, deals with themes of obsession mystery and danger. In particular the film generates a sense that truth is unreachable and that characters live by different modes and versions of abstractions. The two main ways in which these are represented are in Laura’s portrait, which features prominently in several scenes in and in the film’s recurring melody which occurs at key moment’s in the action. This paper will consider two examples of how the music interweaves with these themes throughout the course of the film by presenting one example of its diegetic use and one example of its non-diegetic use.

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According to John Huntley, music in films can be described as being most effective and central when it seems to actively drive the action of the pictures presented. He writes that cinema music reaches its height when it ‘almost compels the visuals to tag along with the music’ (1957, 663). I would argue that ‘Laura’ presents an instance of a film in which the music is so central that it not only gives meaning to action on screen but often threatens to overwhelm and entirely define it. The film opens with the scores central melody as the narrator begins to tell the story of his dead friend. After this, dialogue is conducted without music. After this the scene switches to a restaurant in which Lydeker tells a second character about how he first met Laura. At this moment the audience sees a band playing the same theme that opened the movie. At this point, the music is diegetic and takes place within the real world of the movie.

However, it has now been associated with the character of Laura, whom the audience, along with her lover, assumes is dead. The use of the melody a second time makes it clear that this is Laura’s signature theme, however the use of the melody in a diegetic setting folds this signature over in order to create a sense of obsession. By repeating the theme again in the actual world of the movie, the film envelops the audience in the dead Laura’s presence and in doing so generates suggests the possibility of an all-consuming obsession. The use of music in this way serves to generate a psychological atmosphere through subtle the repetition of music as soundtrack and music as diegetic, actual, presence.

The second use of music to which I will refer is non-diegetic and it occurs in the moment in which it is made clear that McPherson has fallen in love with Laura and moments before she is presented as still alive. Immediately after Lydecker leaves him with the words “I don’t think they’ve ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse,” McPherson sits down in chair underneath Laura’s portrait and the main melody begins again. As this happens the camera pans upwards from McPherson’s anguished and exhausted face to the portrait of Laura that hangs on the wall. The music opens on one long note that serves to hold the psychological tension of the moment before falling into the central melody of the score as it becomes clear that McPherson is falling in love with a person whom he believes to be dead.

The melody becomes most clear as the camera focuses on the portrait of Laura. This use of non-diegetic music once again serves to generate a feeling of claustrophobia and obsession. The extended note on which it starts serves to generate tension and a sense of dread, before instantly associating this tension with the character of Laura herself as the camera focuses on her picture. In this moment the portrait and the music converge, as both come to be seen as representations of Laura, who, at this point the audience believe no longer exists in the world. By combining these two modes of representation, the film once again generates a sense of obsession as McPherson is shown to be caught between different kinds of artifice and abstraction.

In conclusion, this paper has argued that the music in ‘Laura’ functions in two key ways. The first of these is in its diegetic mode in which it shows the omnipresence of Laura’s character in the world of those who know her, and in a non-diegetic sense in which it manifests themes of abstraction and artifice which lie at the heart of the film’s structure. In both of these sense it is possible to glimpse a situation in the film in which music does not simply complement the action but in which it rather provides a major motivating factor and often threatens to make the action on screen its footnote.

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