The Meaning of Romance: Popular Song and Historical Narrative from Arthurian Literature to American Graffiti

Tags: American Graffiti, The International Film Music Society, Oxford University Press, George Lucas, songs, popular song, Manchester University Press, literary romance, Film Music, Fredric Jameson, film narrative, historical romance, Walter Scott, popular songs, song, Arthurian romance, medieval romance, incidental music, medievalism, film genres, University of Oviedo, Arthur Nestrovski, Wolfman Jack, Parenthesis Publications, Jean Baudrillard, Erec and Enide, Elizabeth Hale Winkler, legend of King Arthur, Catherine L. Preston, Norman O'Neill, King Arthur, Elizabeth Winkler, film scholars, Journal of Film Music, Blue Velvet, Jeffrey Beaumont, Hollywood Knights, Film Music Studies, David Lynch, Waverley, Guillaume de Lorris, The Romance of the Rose, Middle Ages, Princeton University Press, A Knight's Tale, historical narrative, historical films, Arthurian literature, Hollywood Film Music, popular music, David Lowenthal
Content: Journal of Film Music 7.1 (2014) 53-76 doi:10.1558/jfm.27582
ISSN (print) 1087-7142 ISSN (online) 1758-860X ARTICLE
"The Meaning of Romance": Popular Song and Historical Narrative from Arthurian Literature to American Graffiti J. RUBЙN VALDЙS-MIYARES University of Oviedo [email protected] Abstract: This article argues that a fundamental connection between music and narrative has existed since the age of medieval romance, and is still noticeable in the uses of popular song in modern cinema. The allusions to a code ultimately originating in medieval romance in George Lucas's American Graffiti are a key clue to unraveling a complex history going back to the longing for a lost age in Arthurian romance, through the use of song in medieval drama, nineteenth-century melodrama, and historical romance, the integration of theme songs and compilation scores in film narrative, and the nostalgia for the age of rock 'n' roll in early-1970s America. The analysis of such connections points to the perennial function of old songs, by means of their familiar tunes and their allusive words, and occasionally their links with dances, in the affective, yet also ironic, recreation of a harmonious dreamed-up past in film. Keywords: film music; popular song; historical romance; medievalism; American Arthuriana
1. Introduction: popular song, medieval romance, drama, and film1 Studies of films that may be broadly classified as "romance" have often struggled with the fact that "it is not usually considered a specific genre by film scholars when it clearly is by those who market films, review films, construct popular encyclopedias such as Cinemania and Internet Movie Database, and especially 1 My hearty thanks are due to William Rosar for his encouragement and for pointing out to me the significance of theater music, including the musical allusions in the baroque genre la devise, in the development of film scores from earlier narrative traditions. I am also very grateful to the Journal of Film Music reviewers for their constructive criticism and extremely valuable suggestions.
by film audiences."2 Music, which in literary romance narratives3 seemed to be a minor ingredient, grew in significance as romance entered the film art through its roots in nineteenth-century theater, with the role of music as "a mood setter for the romantic scenes."4 2 Catherine L. Preston. "Hanging on a Star: The Resurrection of Romance Film in the 1990s," in Film Genre 2000: New Critical Essays, ed. Wheeler W. Dixon, 227-244 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), 228. 3 Literary "romance" is defined by The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (Chris Baldick, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 191, as "a kind of fictional story in verse or prose that relates improbable adventures of idealized characters in some remote or enchanted setting." "The term now embraces many forms of fiction from the Gothic novel and the popular escapist love story to the scientific romances of H.G. Wells, but it usually refers to the tales of King Arthur's knights written in the late Middle Ages ..." (ibid., 192). It is the latter, more usual reference that the present article adopts. 4 Preston, "Hanging on a Star," 238. This use of music was not always regarded with approval. An essay on music for the stage written during the
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The meaning of the romance, as well as various related film genres such as romantic drama, romantic comedy, and musical romance, has turned more and more on plots of sentimental relationships and sexual passion, often a mere subplot,5 neglecting the importance that historical narrative (as the recreation of a past age) has in literary romance, both medieval and modern, and very often in films, too.6 When the songs themselves are from the past, as they are in George Lucas's American Graffiti and other films following its trail, rather than composed for the film score, the connection between song and the historical narrative merits closer scrutiny. The results of my enquiry will position the use of songs in American Graffiti and a few other films within a broader context of historical narrative that originates at least as early as the Arthurian romance of the Middle Ages. Involved in that history is a characteristic sentiment of nostalgia the function of which in films has been addressed by Jeff Smith and other scholars,7 but never discussed in relation to its medieval connotations. The relationship between interpolated songs and film narrative remains a largely unexplored area of scholarly research. A compilation of papers on that subject was introduced expressing surprise that age when film music was just beginning to emerge argued that "incidental music ... is simply called up to bolster the weakness of the drama. It is used to stimulate (by what I may call unfair means) the imagination of the audience ..." Norman O'Neill, "Music to Stage Plays," Proceedings of the Musical Association, 37th Sess. (1910­1911), 88. O'Neill's classification of music for the theater under three headings ("incidental, entr'actes and interlude music," and "music specially written for a play," ibid.) did not envisage the use of popular songs to stimulate the audience emotionally. However, he did complain about the "barbarous" technique of using some melody by a well-known composer to underscore dialogue or action, because he found it intensely distracting. This complaint is discussed in Michael V. Pisani, Music for the Melodramatic Theatre in Nineteenth-Century London and New York (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2014), 312. 5 "Of the one hundred films in the UnS [unbiased sample of randomly chosen classical Hollywood films] ninety-five involved romance in at least one line of action, while eighty-five made that the principal line of action. [...] In this emphasis upon hereterosexual love, Hollywood continues traditions stemming from the chivalric romance, the bourgeois novel, and the American melodrama." David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (London: Routledge, 2002), 16. However, films of the classical period seldom seem to offer a complex, multiple perspective on romance like American Graffiti does, as I argue in this article. 6 The narrow sense of romance as a love adventure supplied the key plotline for several melodramas made in the studio era. Such film romances are analyzed in terms of their cultural construction of gender identities, sexuality and marriage in Virgina Wright Wexman's Creating the Couple: Love, Marriage, and Hollywood Performance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993). 7 Jeff Smith, The Sounds of Commerce: Marketing Popular Film Music (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 177, states that "The particular selection of songs [in American Graffiti] serves to romanticize the late sixties and early sixties as a lost Golden Age." See also David R. Shumway, "Rock 'n' Roll Sound Tracks and the Production of Nostalgia," Cinema Journal 38, No. 2 (1999)" and Michael D. Dwyer, "The Same Old Songs in Reagan-Era Teen Film," Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media 3 (Summer 2012): 1-14. These authors use the word romance and its derivations, or the sentiment of nostalgia for a Golden Age, without an explicit awareness of the medieval, and particularly Arthurian, connotations of these notions.
"relatively little attention has been directed toward popular music and film, and the dynamics of the relationship that exists between them," despite the proliferation of film as well as popular music study programs in universities.8 Since this was written well over a decade ago the situation has changed, and a great deal of scholarship has emerged. Nowadays it would be more accurate to say that the relative scholarly neglect is of the relationship between popular music and historical romance narratives across different art forms. Few have attempted to analyze the significance of songs within the context of narrative fiction,9 or explore the links between songs and the literary genre of romance.10 Some recent studies have noted that the movie theme song was already common in "silent" movies around 1918 but its popularity and influence in the movie industry became notable after the success of Dimitri Tiomkin's ballad "Do Not Forsake Me" in High Noon (directed by Fred Zinnemann, 1952) and its marketing cross-promotion.11 However, the songs acquire a different significance when, rather than being initially associated with the film as part of its music, it is the film that incorporates already popular songs for their own historical associations, as Stothart did by quoting songs from the age of silent cinema in his score for The Wizard of Oz (1939), producing, among others, effects of nostalgia.12 The following seeks to establish significant links between the narrative function of popular song in medieval romance and the use of rock or pop music in the landmark movie American Graffiti. The parallels and contrast between medieval and modern romance will be exemplified by means of previous narrative forms, such as modern Scottish romance novels, and 8 Ian Inglis, ed. Popular Music and Film (London: Wallflower Press, 2003), 3. 9 See Maureen Barry MacCann Boulton, The Song in the Story: Lyric Insertions in French Narrative Fiction, 1200­1400 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), and Sylvia Huot, From Song to Book: The Poetics of Writing in Old French Lyric and Lyrical Narrative Poetry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987). 10 See for instance Hellen Dell, Desire by Gender and Genre in Trouvиre Song (Cambridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2008). 11 Deborah Allison, "Do Not Forsake Me: The Ballad of High Noon and the Rise of the Movie Theme Song," Senses of Cinema, 28 (2003), accessed March 9, 2015, ballad_of_high_noon/; Ildar Khannanov, "High Noon: Dimitri Tiomkin's Oscar-Winning Ballad and its Russian Sources," The Journal of Film Music 2, Nos. 2­4 (2009): 225-46, accessed March 9, 2015, doi 10.1558/jfm. v2i2-4.225. On the sense of nostalgia in early cowboy film songs, see Peter Stanfield, Horse Opera: The Strange History of the 1930s Singing Cowboy (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002), esp. 54-57. 12 The effects of these musical quotations are discussed by Nathan Platte, "Nostalgia, the Silent Cinema, and the Art of Quotation in Herbert Stothart's Score for The Wizard of Oz (1939)," Journal of Film Music 4, No. 1 (2011): 45-64. Platte noted that "Stothart accomplished this by crafting certain musical quotations to fit melodically and contextually with the material of songwriters Harold Arden and F.Y. `Yip' Harburg" (ibid., 53). However, the songs in American Graffiti are not adapted to fit the score; they are a compilation of representative songs from the period.
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"The meaning of romance" 55
by some films in which songs are also important in the recreation of a cherished past. Account must also be taken of the tradition of incidental music in the theater, and particularly the way nineteenth-century drama used music to enhance romantic historical narrative, as it did for instance in Sullivan's King Arthur.13 Such examples should serve to illuminate historical romance in relation to popular song from a wide comparative perspective. At stake here is whether film is a modern form of narrative in every respect, and, specifically, that its narrative use of song is a contemporary phenomenon that owes its existence to that of cinema. The aim, therefore, will be to explore the medievalism in Lucas's movie as well as sampling some other texts in which the interaction between song (or song allusion) and narrative is comparably significant. The dramatic effect of old songs involves the sorts of longing that characterize both the medieval view of the Arthurian world and many current views of the medieval in popular culture, as well as the relationship between music and medievalism. The familiarity of popular songs in the film endows them with poignancy which is akin to "the sweet beckoning sound" of music expressing a vague yearning for an object of fantasy.14 My approach is also partly related to the sort of genetic criticism which has recently begun to be practiced in film studies, though as far as I am aware it has only explored connections between films, and not between film and other narrative forms.15 A key issue I am addressing is precisely the scarcity of analyses of film music that take into account narrative forms existing long before the age of cinema. Thus I may show how medievalism is not confined to conceptions 13 Even if the performance of King Arthur at the Lyceum in 1895 "also represented a flawed attempt to raise the rhetorical component of the drama to the poetic level of the settings, costumes, lighting, and music," the music did succeed in its job which was, along with the lighting, "to impart a large part of the mystical atmosphere." Pisani, Music for the Melodramatic Theatre, 273-74. 14 Dell's insight that "music carries the same ambiguous allure as the medieval" is assumed by the present essay. She bases her explanation of this allure on one of Lacan's senses of jouissance, that "vertiginous jouissance which undoes the imaginary coherence of the self" [...]: The `medieval' space between in fantasy fiction offers itself as that strangeness at the heart [of which Lacan spoke in relation to that sense of jouissance]. Music dangles in the same double lure. You can lose yourself in it or you can fantasize that you do. Either way, music carries the same ambiguous allure as the medieval." Hellen Dell, "`Yearning for the sweet beckoning sound': Musical Longings and the Unsayable in Medievalist Fantasy Fiction," Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies 2 (2011): 171-85 (175), accessed 16 March 2015, pmed20113a.html. 15 Adrian Martin's "Where Do Cinematic Ideas Come From," Journal of Screenwriting 5, No. 1 (2014): 9-26, includes a useful discussion of the practice of genetic criticism, referring to other film critics such as Bill Krohn (in "Friedkin Out," Rouge 3, accessed Nivember 7, 2016, http://www. as its pioneers, and presenting a stimulating exponent of it in his own essay.
of the Middle Ages, as the narrative form of romance and its use of song clearly echo Arthurian attitudes in modern settings, placing American Graffiti and its themes in the broad perspective of Literary history, as well as music history. By contrasting medieval and non-medieval texts I am also suggesting that a medievalist reading, which incorporates the critical insights derived from the study of medieval culture, can be applied to a wider range of texts from other periods. In this light, even a broad definition of "medieval film" that is not confined to films set in the Middle Ages16 should also comprehend some cases in which the medievalism is embodied in romantic vision of the past, along with the evocative use of popular song. Thus my approach, recalling Wittgenstein's use of Goethe's poem "The Metamorphosis of Plants" to eschew the habit of seeking causes or common origins whenever similarities between words are perceived, does not imply that the use of song in American Graffiti and other films necessarily derives from Arthurian romance, but that there is, as it were, a genetic similarity between both.17 The connection is particularly revealed by the use of the word "romance" in some of the songs in Lucas's film, and in some of its dialogues, as shall be seen next. In avoiding the logic of historical causality, this essay eschews a conventional chronological order. Hopefully the following road signs may help the reader to wade through my "genetic" procedure. Thus, after the present introductory Section 1, Section 2 argues for the basic links between the idea of romance in the songs and plot of American Graffiti and the idea of romance in a Wider context, from the medieval to the postmodern, as well as the way it involves the notion of nostalgia. Section 3, including a necessary discussion of the "popular" since the Middle Ages, explains the deep interrelationship existing in medieval culture between narrative and popular song, 16 One such broad definition of medieval film is suggested by Martha Driver and Sid Ray, eds., The Medieval Hero on Screen: Representations from Beowulf to Buffy (London: MacFarland, 2004), 5. 17 Wittgenstein explains his interpretation of Goethe's poem in a work on which he collaborated with F. Waisman: F. Waismann, The Principles of Linguistic Philosophy, edited by R. Harrй (London: Macmillan, 1965), 80-81. Elsewhere, while discussing the work of Frazer, and after a brief allusion to Oswald Spengler's "World-view," Wittgenstein referred to a similar conception as "ьbersichtliche Darstellung," or "perspicuous representation," which he defined as finding "connecting links" (Zwischengliedern). See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Occasions 1912­1951, ed. James C. Klagge and Alfred Nordmann (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 1993), 133. The morphological connection (rather than the causal or historical one) may be one of the ideas that Wittgenstein took over from Spengler: see William James DeAngelis, "Wittgenstein and Spengler," Dialogue 33 (1994): 41-61. Analogous problems of causality and temporality have been central to the debates and definitions of medievalism. See Karl Fugelso, "Medievalism from Here," Studies in Medievalism 17 (2009): 87, and Richard Utz, "Medievalitas Fugit: Medievalism and Temporality," Studies in Medievalism 18 (2010): Defining Medievalism(s) II, 31-43.
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which the essay as a whole extrapolates to the use of old song in film. Section 4 goes on to describe the part played by songs in romance with examples from Scottish literature, understanding romance as a form of historical narrative, and how this narrative role was taken over by film from the historical romance. Section 5 expands these examples to better illustrate the evocative use of pop music in various films, both before and after American Graffiti. Section 6 finally returns to Lucas's movie so as to place it in its own historical context and particularly in relation to modern American Arthuriana, also recalling the observations made on Arthurian romance and popular song in Sections 2 and 3. Section 7 concludes that, given the medieval kinship between romance and popular song, and the contiguities between historical romance and certain film narratives, the romantic use of song in those films connotes echoes of medievalism: this is a result, as I then argue, of the very meaning of "romance," once the word has been the object of a genetic, or, as Wittgenstein would rather call it, morphological inquiry. 2. The Book of Love: looking "back when things were simpler and the music was better" Chapter one says the lover You love her with all your heart Chapter two you tell her You never, never, never, never, ever wanna part In chapter three remember The meaning of romance In chapter four you break up But you give her just one more chance Oh I wonder wonder who, be-doooo who Who wrote the book of love Baby, baby, baby I love you yes I do Well it says so in this book of love Ours is the one that's true Oh I wonder wonder who, be-doooo who Who wrote the book of love ... The Monotones, "(Who Wrote) The Book of Love" (1957) A reviewer in the New York Times (by Stephen Farber, August 5, 1973) famously stated that American Graffiti "freezes the last moment of American innocence." The film was generously rewarded by critics, audiences, and Academy Awards for the portrayal of an imaginary
time that many Americans could identify with. Among the means by which this prelapsarian teenage world is brought to life two stand out: Haskell Wexler's resourceful lighting techniques which devised ways to contrive the effect of "jukebox lighting,"18 and its successful combination with a compilation score of songs from the late 1950s and early 1960s period. The songs are a central organizing device to represent the characters' aspirations, joining through a continuous ambience the various narrative threads and the three key locales: Mel's diner where they hear the jukebox, the hop where they dance to a band, and the streets (as well as a few locations around town: the used car lot, the liquor store, the canal bank) where the car radios can be heard. The music is diegetic in a double sense: because the songs are generated by onscreen sources (the radio, the jukebox, the live band), and also because their various melodic contours and rhythms reflect on the moods in different scenes (the shift from one song to another very often matches transitions between scenes or sequences), while their lyrics (often barely heard, but familiar to many viewers) frequently suggest oblique references to the simultaneous scene and character action. In sum, the use of song generally responds to the notion of source scoring which Hagen coined, a combination of source music and dramatic scoring.19 The overall impression on the spectator could be described as a musical "cruising" night trip across a moment in American culture. On closer inspection, it is also a quest adventure of characters seeking to come to terms with their time and age, a time an age expressed by the songs. As such a journey into an imagined world that is no longer felt as real but as an object of desire, it is the stuff of literary romance. It is actually a cinematic quest for the original meaning of romance. In the song "American Pie" Don McLean refers to "(Who Wrote) The Book of Love" by The Monotones, a 1950s doo-wop vocal group, through a Christian literary analogy: Did you write the Book of Love And do you have faith in God above? If the Bible tells you so, Now, do you believe in rock and roll? Can music save your mortal soul? 18 Interview with Stephen Farber in George Lucas, Interviews, ed. Sally Kline (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), 41. 19 Earle Hagen, Scoring for Films (New York: E.D.J. Music, 1971), 190. See also the critique of the diegetic/non-diegetic dichotomy as being of little explanatory value from the point of view of musicology in William H. Rosar, "Film Studies in Musicology: Disciplinary vs. Interdisciplinary," The Journal of Film Music 2, Nos. 2­4 (2009): 108-15, and more recently in Ben Winters, "The Non-DMusic, and Narrative Space," Music and Letters 92, No. 2 (2010): 224-44.
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"The meaning of romance" 57
The irony that love is not a natural feeling, but something you should learn from a book is central to "(Who Wrote) The Book of Love," and assumed by McLean's song. "American Pie" was released in 1972, when Lucas was trying to finance American Graffiti, and "(Who Wrote) The Book of Love" was one of the songs he selected for the film. Thematically the lyrics are probably the most significant in the film, because they refer to the romantic ideal that the characters pursue in the course of the story, their doubts about it, and the generic connection of the film plot with traditional romance: as in chivalric romance, love or sexual adventure are included metonymically, but the main focus is the quest for an ideal of life ruled by a refined code of behavior (the chapters in The Book of Love). Both McLean's song and Lucas's film voice a nostalgia for the previous decade, which bears a curious resemblance to the longing that writers of Arthurian romance express for the times when men were truer knights and loved more purely: for example, in Malory's "How true love is likened to summer" (Le Morte D'Arthur, Book 18, Chapter 25), in turn resembling thematically (the metaphor of perfect love as past summer) the song "Summer Nights" in Grease (1971), the musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey preceding Lucas in the early-1970s trend of nostalgic recreations of the age of rock 'n' roll. The Monotones and McLean unwittingly deploy a medieval concept that C.S. Lewis called "the Religion of Love," and the idea that love could be codified in a book for lovers to learn its art. Lewis argued that "that ideal of `happiness'--the happiness grounded on successful romantic love--which still supplies the topos of our popular fiction"--was "invented" in the twelfth century.20 At any rate, it became the principal theme of the sublime style.21 Lewis, at least, would not hesitate to answer The Monotones' question: it was all these medieval writers who wrote The Book of Love. For the general spectator of American Graffiti, 20 C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 4. 21 The "elate et sublime" (the exalted and sublime manner) which Dante learned from Horace's Ars Poetica and Chaucer would translate into English. See Sara Kay, "The Contradictions of Courtly Love and the Origins of Courtly Poetry: The Evidence of the Launzengiers," Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 26, No. 2 (1996): 209, and Jenniffer G. Wollock, Rethinking Chivalry and Courtly Love (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011), 31-46. Courtly love was the result of certain social conditions in the feudal world, and it grew under the influence of troubadour songs, Christianity (particularly the Biblical Song of Songs), the mysticism associated with St. Bernard of Clairvaux, commentaries of Ovid's Ars Amandi, and other books that exemplified the idea of fin' amor, as courtly love was called, in late-twelfth- and mid-thirteenth-century France. Such books included Chrйtien de Troyes's Arthurian romances, Andrй the Chaplain's Ars Honeste Amandi, and most definitely the Roman de la Rose, by Guillaume de Lorris, who catered to readers who were more interested in the "refined emotionalism" of Chrйtien's romances than in the fantastic Arthurian adventures. Lewis, Allegory of Love, 113-14.
however, what remains from the question "Who wrote The Book of Love?" is precisely a questioning of the meaning of romance. Given the obvious connections between cinema and theater, Elizabeth Winkler's observations on the theory of dramatic song may be relevant here.22 In the first place "a striking feature of songs" is their cumulative effect through repetition.23 Thus The Monotones' insistence on questioning "Who wrote The Book of Love?" even if the song is heard in the background and the rest of the lyrics scarcely understood, would strike a chord in the audience (as witnessed by Don McLean's use of the phrase). Winkler also points out that "newer song theory advances an agonistic, dissociative view of how the disparate elements involved in song collaborate and/ or compete with each other,"24 which in the present case is suggested by the placement of love songs in a film that questions the sense of romance in various ways. Therefore, the use of such songs in the film would predominantly consist of "Ironic and satiric usages of song [which] rely less heavily on the emotional power of music and more on the capacity of the audience to perceive structural, aesthetic or intellectual contrasts."25 Yet I will also argue that the old songs nonetheless retain their emotional power, so that the existence of romance is implicitly located in the mythical past of jukeboxes, hops, and teenage adventures that those oldies recall. There were strains of nostalgia coupled with irony in the idea of love from the beginning of its association with the legend of King Arthur. In his prologue to Yvain, written in the 1170s, Chrйtien laments the decline of "the order of love" after the days of King Arthur: "[It] was rich and flourishing in those days of old. But now its followers are few, having deserted it almost to a man, so that love is much abased ... [N]ow love is a laughing-stock."26 In Erec and Enide Chrйtien also suggested that music can evoke in the protagonist "the thing he most was longing for."27 The notion that love was better in the good old days is as central to Chrйtien's romance as it is to American Graffiti. Both adopt a two-pronged view of the ideal: in Chrйtien's Launcelot the hero's fin' amors is countered 22 Elizabeth Hale Winkler, The Function of Song in Contemporary British Drama (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1990). 23 Winkler, Function of Song, 18. 24 Winkler, Function of Song, 20. 25 Winkler, Function of Song, 32. 26 Chrйtien de Troyes, Yvain, trans. W.W. Comfort (Cambridge, Ontario: Parenthesis Publications, 1999), 2, accessed April 4, 2014, http://www. 27 Chrйtien de Troyes, Erec and Enide, trans. W.W. Comfort (Cambridge, Ontario: Parenthesis Publications, 1999), accessed April 4, 2014, http://
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by his foil, Gauvain, who stands for chivalric reason in ironic opposition to courtly love; in American Graffiti the romantic ideal is the hero's passing glimpse of a "dazzling" blonde on a beautiful car, in contrast to less romantic reality. It is a love, the film suggests, that today you can only find in books, songs, or movies. The "nostalgia film" of the postmodern age, as Fredric Jameson named it,28 considering American Graffiti its inaugural instance, has its distinct qualities and motivations. It is, Baudrillard argued, a nostalgia for what "the real ... used to be."29 However, by the early 1970s, as Jane Burns explains referring to the Middle Ages in film and literature, "Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be."30 It has now become tinged with irony because the past ideal no longer feels real or attainable: the songs are echoes of nothing real. This irony is also a distinctly medieval response to romance. It is already implicit in Chrйtien's complaint cited above that "now love is a laughing-stock." The ambivalent response was not characteristic of the modern, classical Hollywood period. A case in point may be The Wizard of Oz (1939) in Platte's analysis of its nostalgic use of melodies. The initial Kansas scenes in Oz use sepia-toned film to recall toning procedures of the silent-movie age and some songs associated with those movies much like American Graffiti would use "jukebox lighting" and oldies to arouse nostalgia. It uses a very different tone and music for the Oz scenes, but the opposed worlds of Kansas and Oz come to an harmonic resolution through the musical juxtaposition of "Home Sweet Home" and "Over the Rainbow," "a textual dissonance that will not be resolved until the concluding bars of the background score."31 Dorothy's conflicting feelings of homesickness and longing for a journey are likewise resolved in the final scenes when she identifies the Kansas characters with her friends in Oz. The etymological sense of nostalgia, from Greek nostos, meaning "return," is fulfilled when the heroine returns home. On the other hand, the chief character in American Graffiti ends up leaving his home, he never 28 Fredric Jameson, Post-modernism. Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 2009), xvii, 18-19. Jameson's somewhat incommensurable cultural criticism is not widely accepted, especially outside certain schools of cultural studies. His views on cinema might fall under the comprehensive attack on fashionable academic film theory of Noлl Carroll, Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in. Contemporary Film Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). Nonetheless, I consider Jameson's singling-out of American Graffiti as the first "nostalgia film of the postmodern age" an index of its representativeness and influence. 29 Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, translated by P. Foss, P. Patton and P. Beitchmann (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), 12. 30 Jane E. Burns, "Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be: The Middle Ages in Literature and Film," in Shadows of the Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction in Film, ed. George Slusser and Eric Rabin (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), 86-97. 31 Platte, "Stothart's Score for The Wizard of Oz," 57.
gets to meet his dream girl, and there is no complete harmonizing of the songs and the various feelings they represent, because Lucas used a compilation score instead of commissioning an original score that could resolve the juxtapositions and adapt to the evolving sentiments in an exact form. Compared to the 1939 movie, the nostalgia in Lucas's is fragmented, insoluble, and open-ended. The irony lies in the perceived inconsistency between the idea of romance in the songs (and in the character's words, which are discussed below) and the plotline.32 Within the plot of American Graffiti, set in 1962, characters look back on a happier recent period. For John Milner, a kind of heroic Gawain-like epigone of that former period, it was a time when he found it easier to pick up "birds." That golden age was before Buddy Holly died in a plane crash along with other musicians on February 3, 1959, an event alluded to in the film by Wolfman Jack, the Merlin-like radio DJ who also acts as the minstrel-narrator of the age. In the song "American Pie," that plane crash was "the day the music died." The film narrative opens as radio music fades in on a dark screen. According to the screenplay, "There's a pause ... and suddenly we are hit by a blasting-out-of-the-past, Rocking and Rolling, turn-up-the-volume, pounding Intro to a Vintage 1962 Golden Week-End Radio Show--back when things were simpler and the music was better."33 However, the "simpler things" that Arthurian romancers imagined exist only in the film ­ like the fleeting image of the girl with whom Curt Henderson falls in love at first sight. While The Teenagers sing "While Do Fools Fall in Love" on the car radios, the "dazzling" blonde passes by him driving a "56 Thunderbird." This nameless beauty, "backlit by a 32 According to Chris Baldick's Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (Oxford: Oxford University Press), page 114, irony is "a subtly humorous perception of inconsistency, in which an apparently straightforward statement or event is undermined by its context so as to give it a very different significance." More to the point, Arthur Nestrovski, in a round table on "Cultural Politics" in a congress of musicology, established the connection between literary and musicological irony, focusing particularly on romantic irony: "When Goethe speaks of Nature as `the unreachable' (`das Unerforschliche'), he is only expressing the dominant form of irony in Romanticism: the consciousness of an interval between man and the natural world. The wished-for coincidence between what is inside and what is outside us proves to be impossible, if only because no word can ever annul this distance. A word is always a sign for something that is not there. The problems are not exactly analogous when it comes to musical signs; but the same play of absence and presence (or voice, or self) becomes central to musical thinking around the beginning of the nineteenth century." Arthur Nestrovski, "Beethoven's Ironies", in David Greer, ed., Musicology and Sister Disciplines: Past, Present Future. Proceedings of the 16th International Congess of the International Musicological Society, London, 1997 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 428-38 (430). Of course, a song, like a word (say, "romance"), is always "a sign for something that is not there." 33 George Lucas, Gloria Katz, and Willard Huyck, American Graffiti (Screenplay) (New York: Ballantine Books, 1973), 1, accessed April 3, 2014,
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"The meaning of romance" 59
used car lot, seems to glow":34 she becomes Curt's object of desire for the rest of the movie, incarnating the very idea of pure love which the film provides. Amidst his quest for her, however, he is sidetracked --just as knights errant might undergo subsidiary adventures--by an attempt to rekindle his relationship with an ex-girlfriend, his subjection to a "rite of initiation" and complicity in a robbery by the Pharaohs gang, and his meeting with Wolfman Jack. When Curt's sister Laurie and her boyfriend Steve Bolander show impatience at his "romantic visions," Curt reproaches them: "That means nothing to you people? You have no soul, no romance?"35 In fact, Steve and Laurie, who embody a "steady" love relationship in the film, are facing a crisis. The Crests' "Sixteen Candles," a tantalizing 1958 declaration of tender teenage love, which is foregrounded turning up its volume just before Milner discusses happier days with Curt watching gleaming cars pass with boys and girls in the hot night, fades out as the couple talk inside their parked car in tense quietness. Steve has decided to leave their small central California town to attend a university on the east coast, and is suggesting to her that they see "other people" (by which he means meeting other girls himself) now that they can consider themselves "as adults." Their situation prompts Laurie to question the meaning of their relationship, by reassessing how they started dating: "You thought high school romances were goofy and we started going together just because you thought I was kinda cute and funny, but then suddenly realized you were in love with me, it was serious ..."36 Thus the characters' idea of romance is either visionary or goofy. True romance exists only in the songs. Ironically, the next song is The Crows' jump-blues "Gee," sometimes credited as being the first ever rock 'n' roll hit,37 which is mostly based on nonsense syllables of doo-wop harmony and words of pressing lust mingled with fast declarations of steady love: "Hold me, baby squeeze me, / Never let me go, / I'm not takin' chances / Because I love her, love her so." The romantic interludes of the other major characters in American Graffiti are scarcely less complicated. Milner does not want to fall back on high-school romance but finds himself forced to drive twelve-year-old Carol around town, so that she can show off that she is with a handsome guy. The film derives much significance from the idea of romance
in songs like "(Who Wrote) The Book of Love" and its interaction with what the characters do.38 When Carol is sent from her sister's car to Milner's, the radio is playing Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day" as if this was his return to the good old days when "birds" were easy for him; but then he realizes that she is too young. Curt has just got off a car where he was with Wendy, an ex-girlfriend who still has feelings for him, when he sees a passing car he thinks might be the "T-bird" of the dazzling blonde he is chasing. He runs but soon loses sight of it. The radio song he was hearing in the car with Wendy, still heard faintly from the street, is The Regents' "Barbara Ann" (1961), beginning "Went to a dance / Lookin' for romance / Found Barbara Ann." Like in the song, Curt has just rejected a girl and is chasing his own ideal Barbara Ann ("Tried Peggy Sue / Tried Betty Lou / Tried Mary Lou / But I knew she wouldn't do"). Next, Wolfman Jack introduces "The Book of Love" and with its sprightly tempo the scene moves to Mel's Drive-In, where Milner is reluctantly handing Carol the ten-cent coke she made him buy for her. While she is looking around hoping some of her friends see her with the coolest guy in town, he is lying low in his parked car, embarrassed that someone should see him with such a young girl. Then his friend Al comes over with his new girlfriend Linda; they lean on the car window and see Carol. As Milner explains that she is his cousin and he is just babysitting, she slugs him, struggles to hit him, spills her coke all over the car and gets out, calling him a "spastic creep." As she starts walking along the street, Milner watches her from the car while "The Book of Love" fades up on the radio. Other cars of "cruising" young men hunting for girls start calling her, so Milner, in an ironic take on the rescue of a damsel in distress, decides to pick her up again in case she suffers some harm while under his responsibility. The song ends. Milner and Carol are hardly a conventional chapter in The Book of Love. Terry "The Toad" Fields, the least likely candidate for a successful romantic affair, spends the night around town (though going through various misadventures) with a gentle, compliant blonde, a Sandra Dee look-alike (though Fields compares her to Connie Stevens) called Debbie Dunham, who may look almost as fantastic to the film viewer as Henderson's mysterious blonde. He feels, like
34 Lucas et al., American Graffiti, 14. 35 Lucas et al., American Graffiti, 15. 36 Lucas et al., American Graffiti, 6. 37 Charlie Gillett, The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 3rd ed, (London: Souvenir Press, 1996), 76.
38 Among the three models of song use that Katherine Spring propounds ("plugging a song," "integrating a song," and "curtailing a song") "The Book of Love" is an example of song integration, with the threats to narrative plausibility this use might involve. Katherine Spring, Saying It with Songs: Popular Music and the Coming of Sound to Hollywood Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 95-118.
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Chuck Berry's song they hear when she gets into his borrowed car, "Almost Grown." Yet the ungainly "Toad" manages to "watch the submarine races" with Debbie, despite several mishaps and embarrassments. Indeed, the various love relationships in the screenplay bear a resemblance to the kaleidoscopic, contradictory, and ambivalent views of love in the songs from the compilation soundtrack as a whole, when their different views on love are contrasted with each other. The musicological effect of the compilation soundtrack in this respect is very different from films in which the underscoring is orchestral, as in The Wizard of Oz, or, more to the point, in the jazz score of a film of the pre-rock 'n' roll era such as The Wild One.39 The music might be "better," as the radio show argued, but love was far from "simpler": thus the film looks upon the idea of pure love--The Book of Love-- in irony. In addition to the way it is contextualized in the film as illustrated above, the song is ironic when it suggests that love is just about going by the book ("I love you yes I do / Well it says so in this book of love"). If the dominant trope of historical discourse in the postmodern age is irony, as Hayden White noted,40 this is amply reflected in the film's representation of romance. The interface between romance and cynicism is key to the main character: "Curt thinks of himself as the town cynic. In reality, he's a hopeless romantic."41 From the start the film casts a retrospective look at the period it depicts and seemingly idealizes, announcing its end. The initial establishing shot of Mel's Drive-In in the sunset marks the beginning of the end of the age of "Rock Around the Clock," while this iconic song is heard. Though the ideals remain in the songs, the heroes accept the age has passed: Milner does not want to attend the Freshman Hop, Henderson and Bolander plan to leave, and Fields dreams of joining the Marines. In the final scene Milner, Fields, Henderson's parents, his sister Laurie and her boyfriend, Steve, see Curt off as he gets on a plane. Just before end credits he is looking out of the window: far below he sees a white car, perhaps his dream blonde's T-bird, moving along the road. Then, against a clear blue sky, we see cameos of the four main characters and subtitles explaining what became of them over the following decade: Milner was killed by a drunk driver in 1964, Field was reported missing in action in Vietnam, 1965, and Steve, the
only one staying on the "normal" side of life, becomes an insurance agent in Modesto, California, the town that inspired the setting for the film. It may be easily inferred that Laurie Henderson married him and they became a respectable family. Only Curt Henderson escapes both tragedy and conventional small-town life, and his plane flies toward something that sounds more like romance, to become "a writer living in Canada." The end of American Graffiti bears a striking analogy with that of Lucas's debut feature film, THX 1138 (1971), whose hero finally escapes from an oppressive futuristic world to the light of a new dawn. Thus the escape from the future is similar to the escape from the past. The final section in the present article will discuss why there may be such equivalence between past and future. But first we need to turn to some classic examples of romance, from medieval literature to Walter Scott's Waverley. Like American Graffiti, they express ironic sentiments about an agonizing world, now dead, which memory and song tend to cherish as a simpler, purer age. 3. Longing for an age of romance: medieval narrative and popular song What "The Book of Love" and American Graffiti call romance, whether it is considered (the story of) an amorous adventure, a genre, a mode, or just a kind of narrative, is constantly mixed with other narrative forms, particularly irony and tragedy. Indeed, "generic mixture [...] is extremely commonplace" in medieval romance.42 The film does show, nevertheless, key "structural" features of romance, particularly nostalgia. Drawing on Frye, Fuchs notes how "The idealization of romance is often achieved through a nostalgic purchase on the past."43 In other words, nostalgia plays a decisive role in romance's recreation of the past, while song plays it in the recreation of that emotion. The connection between historical narrative and popular song, in the sense of remembering a happy time when music, particularly love songs, expressed people's enjoyment of life, could be said to begin in Arthurian literature, along with the creation of romance narrative itself. Before that time allusion to music in narrative mostly was associated with
39 See Fred Steiner, "An Examination of Leith Stevens' Use of Jazz in The Wild One," Film Music Notebook 2 (1976): 27-35, and 3 (1976): 27-34. 40 Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1973), 433-34. 41 Lucas et al., American Graffiti, 2.
42 K.S. Whetter, Understanding Genre and Medieval Romance (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 25. 43 Barbara Fuchs, Romance (The New Critical Idiom Series) (London: Routledge, 2004), 6. Northrop Frye, The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976).
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"The meaning of romance" 61
religious solemnities, or with the epic celebration of heroism. In the epic milieu, song was hardly distinguished from narrative: Das Nibelungenlied, Le Chanson de Roland or El Cantar del Mнo Cid call themselves "song," and they might have been recited melodically with a harp. The identification of song with narrative diminishes precisely with the rise of romance, because, whereas the medieval epic has oral roots, romance originated in historiography and the Latin chronicle. The transition is revealed in Geoffrey of Monmouth's preface to his Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1138), when he states his aim to turn into history certain oral traditions about the ancient kings of Britain, especially King Arthur.44 Stylistically, Geoffrey was working within the tradition of the medieval chronicler, with some echoes of the Virgilian epic. When his Latin prose was translated in Wace's Anglo-Norman Roman de Brut (c. 1155), Arthurian romance was born.45 While in romance (as opposed to epic) the narrative and the song are definitely separated in form, romances still tended to regard music and songs as important subjects, especially in the representation of their ideal world. In Wace's French octosyllabic couplets Arthur's legend obtained a romantic savor, with emphasis on refinement, courtesy, young men's quest for individual glory, heterosexual love, and longing for an idealized past age. One of the strikingly free adaptations of Geoffrey's sober prose to Wace's poetry occurs in the description of Arthur's plenary court at Caerleon (later known as Camelot), when the king and queen were solemnly crowned. Both writers allude to the music played on the splendorous occasion, but whereas Geoffrey (Book IX, Chapter 13) only mentions "the harmony of the musical instruments and voices,"46 Wace goes into a prolonged description: Now to the court had gathered many tumblers, harpers, and makers of music, for Arthur's feast. He who would hear songs sung to the music of the rote, or would solace himself with the newest refrain of the minstrel, may win to his wish. Here stood the viol player, chanting ballads and lays to their appointed tunes. Everywhere might be heard the voice of viols and harp and flutes. In every place rose the sound of 44 Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Aaron Thompson (Cambridge, Ontario: Parenthesis Publications, 1999), 2, accessed April 23, 2014, 45 The word "romanz," initially associated with any translation from Latin into a romance language such as French, began to acquire literary meaning in Wace's work. Wace suitably dedicated it to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Queen of England, who was distinguished as the greatest patroness of troubadours in the new culture of fin' amor. 46 Geoffrey of Monmouth, History, 163.
lyre and drum and shepherd's pipe, bagpipe, psaltery, cymbals, monochord and all manner of music.47 Wace seemingly wants to impress his reader with a wide knowledge of the latest musical fashions, even though he transfers them to a former, imagined age. Though not yet explicitly charged with nostalgia, songs were ready to acquire such connotation, since the music is here represented as one of the many things that were better in the days of King Arthur. The variety of musicians, instruments, new and old songs, and song forms, marks the arrival of popular song in the world of romance. "Popular" is a notoriously slippery term. The popular, including song, is often defined by its identification with lowbrow, mass culture, as opposed to highbrow, specialized, or elitist. However, what may be lowbrow at one time (or for one social class), may be highbrow at another: jazz, once synonymous with popular music, is now mostly a field for educated minorities, almost like opera or chamber music. The distinction was as important in the Middle Ages, when it was often referred to as "the lewd and the lerid" (the vulgar and the learned), as in the twentieth century, when mass culture was criticized by F.R. Leavis in 1930s Britain, and by Dwight Macdonald in 1950s America.48 The first great critical debate on the subject of traditional versus new song was the anonymous allegorical poem The Owl and the Nightingale (c. 1200), which was as much a result of Angevin culture as Wace's Roman. Admittedly, the products of courtly culture, sung by troubadours for their aristocratic patrons and copied in manuscripts which very select minorities could own or read, can hardly be called "popular."49 There is one important sense, however, in which troubadour songs and lays had already been popular since the twelfth century: in the debate fable the Owl defends a more traditional, solemn sort of religious music reminiscent of plainchant, whereas the Nightingale defends the newer courtly song. The Owl attacks the latter using arguments that recall Adorno's criticism of jazz music in the 1940s: for example, suggesting that the new songs are frivolous and 47 Wace, Arthurian Chronicles: Roman de Brut, trans. Eugene Mason (The Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classic Series, 2004), 91, accessed April 9, 2014, roman-de-brut. 48 John Storey, An Introductory Guide to cultural theory and Popular Culture (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993), 27-40. 49 Unfortunately, the songs of the people, such as peasants' folk songs, were scarcely ever written down. The popularity of courtly songs, like that of romances, lay in the future, when they began to be imitated and copied extensively in London workshops from the fourteenth century, and still later when printing presses mass-produced them as broadside ballads.
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repetitive.50 Moreover, the poem alludes to narrative songs so as to illustrate certain moral issues, thus opening a complementary narrative medium, as the songs may do in American Graffiti. For example, the Owl refers to a song that must have been popular in the courtly circles at the time, Marie de France's lay "Laьstic" (c. 1180), about a wife who used listening to a nightingale as an excuse to meet her lover. The Owl (lines 1045-1065) alludes to it as proof of an accusation against the Nightingale's songs corrupting young women--the sort of accusation against rock 'n' roll which was not uncommon in the late 1950s. The time span between The Owl and the Nightingale and "Laьstic" may have been between one and two decades, enough for a song to prove its popularity in cultural memory, and similar to the generational span between American Graffiti and the songs in its film score. In sum, popular song is defined for the present purposes, both in the medieval and modern period, as a song that has gained enough currency for a later narrative to integrate it for effect. Along with the use of popular song, it is important to bear in mind, for the purposes of the present study: (1) the codification of conduct befitting romance by means of exemplary or allegorical narrative; (2) the association of the romantic code with popular song, music, and dance; and (3) the placement of romance in a former, more innocent age, often involving sorrow over its loss. These three factors are well illustrated with reference to Guillaume de Lorris's Romance de la Rose (c. 1230). Guillaume's poem is presented as the account of a dream the poet had. He wakes up within his dream and walks out of town to listen to the birds sing. Then he arrives at a garden enclosed in high walls wherein he can hear birds. When at last Lady Oiseuse (Idleness) opens a door for him, he not only sees the birds singing "le chants d'amours et sons courtois," but is also invited to join a caroling dance among elegant allegorical characters. The dancers as a whole embody the joys of courtly life, from the perspective of "the `pure' love associated with the trouvиre tradition."51 Song is also important in another early thirteenth-century French book which was written in response to Guillaume's Romance, and often known by the very same title: Jean Renart's The Romance of the Rose. Its modern translators discuss "The interpolated songs embroidered on the text," which "also include ironic overtones in their celebration of love."52 A much more thorough ironic 50 Theodor W. Adorno, Essays on Music, ed. R. Leppert, trans. S.H. Gillespie (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 437-69. 51 Huot, From Song to Book, 100. 52 Jean Renart, The Romance of the Rose, or Guillaume de Dole, trans. Patricia
revision of Guillaume's "book of love" is in turn embodied by Jean de Meun's continuation of it (c. 1260), regarded as the second part of the Roman de la Rose. There is a paradigmatic change of approach between Guillaume's lyrical part, explicitly related to song, the source of inspiration for Boccaccio's Il Filostrato and Chaucer's in Troilus and Criseyde, and the satirical, polemical discourse of de Meun's part, which met a deconstructive mirror in Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale. Here, nonetheless, romantic feelings of nostalgia for lost youth resurface poignantly when the Wife remembers "How koude I daunce to an harpe smale, / And synge, ywis, as any nyghtyngale."53 Lucas, too, wrote American Graffiti as a celebration of the days of song and dance in his own early youth, as well as the ironies of "innocent" love, and the demise of that (remembered or dreamed-up) age. Finally, the use of song in medieval drama should not be overlooked, due to the theatrical roots of cinematic representations of reality. Largely because of their own origins in liturgical drama, medieval plays conceived of music primarily as a symbolic allusion to harmony, though more ludic and ironic uses would eventually evolve.54 While Shakespeare's use of song falls beyond the scope of the present article, it is important to note that, particularly in the late romances, the mystical overtones that go back not only to medieval drama but also to Platonic and Biblical notions remain noticeable.55 Furthermore, those connotations of a vague reflection of heavenly harmony, a lost paradise, or desire for a life demised long ago, are still some of the ingredients of romantic song which Lucas's film could not entirely elude. 4. The end of an "auld sang": historical novel, song, and dance Once we have established the medieval connotations of romance in American Graffiti and the medieval interplay between romance (and drama) and popular song (also found in the film), it is necessary to trace some lines of continuity between romance narrative Terry and Nancy Vine Durling (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 8. 53 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 111, lines 457-58. 54 Classic studies of the subject include William M. Smoldon, The Music of the medieval Church Dramas (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), John Stevens, Words and Music in the Middle Ages: Song, Narrative Dance, and Drama, 1050­1350 (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1986), and Peter Happй, Song in Morality Plays and Interludes (Lancaster: Medieval English Theatre Monographs, 1, 1991). 55 See J.M. Notesworthy, "Music and Its Function in the Romances of Shakespeare," Shakespeare Survey 11 (1958), 60-69, http://dx.doi. org/10.1017/CCOL0521064244.006.
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and song (and dance) from the medieval to the modern age, and therefore to cinema. As the issue may be extremely complex, I hope some examples will suffice, which I will take from a key birthplace of historical romance: Scotland. Romance survived well beyond the Middle Ages, and revived notably in the Romantic period, particularly in the historical novel. Northrop Frye suggested as a general principle that most historical novels are romances.56 The model of modern historical romance that first comes to mind is often Walter Scott's Waverley, or 'Tis Sixty Years Since (1814). It is not insignificant that, before starting his famous career as a historical romancer with this novel, Scott had been very actively involved in the recovery of the ballad tradition.57 In the Celtic context of the Scottish Highlands the Jacobite songs, in their chivalric idealization of the Stuart cause, created a myth of an Arturus Revividus which resembled the Britons' hope of King Arthur,58 decisively pushing Scott into historical romance. Like some Jacobite songs, Waverley was a celebration of doomed chivalric romance. As its form is historical fiction, the songs it uses explicitly are additional resources to enhance the emotional charge in the narrative, and to interact ironically with their narrative context, much as they do in American Graffiti. Scott's cynical view of song is suggested early in the novel through the character of Davie Gellatley, a "cracked-brained knave" whose memory was "stored with miscellaneous snatches and fragments of all tunes and songs, which he sometimes applied, with considerable address, as the vehicles of remonstrance, explanation, or satire."59 Davie stands for the fragmentation, decline, and loss of sense in traditional song. Scott's romantic view of song, on the other hand, appears when Edward Waverley is taken by boat into the hold of a Highland robber, by a steersman chanting a Gaelic song enacting as it were a magic charm to enter "the land of romance."60 The Jacobite Highlanders represent Scott's medievalist fascination with the last upholders of the chivalric 56 Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), 307. 57 The result was Scott's two-volume compilation of traditional ballads The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802­1803) and then the production of his The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), the Preface of which presents it as adapting "the plan of the ancient metrical romance," a synonym of "old ballad," for Scott. Thus he virtually rehearsed the medieval transition from traditional oral song to written narrative which had given rise to romance. Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, ed. David Hill Radcliffe (Edinburgh: Constable, 1805), accessed April 23, 2014, 58 William Donaldson, The Jacobite Song: Political Myth and National Identity (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1988), 15. 59 Walter Scott, Waverley, or 'Tis Sixty Years Since (The Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classic Series, 2013), 73, accessed April 11, 2014, 60 Scott, Waverley, 106.
values of courtesy, loyalty, and reckless courage. Songs still make social and emotional sense in this ancient world, when the Chieftain of a Highland clan, Fergus Mac-Ivor, asks his own family bard "Mac-Murrogh nan Fonn (i.e., of the songs)" to chant the family genealogy.61 The climax of romantic representation of song arrives when Waverley listens to Mac-Ivor's sister Flora, who translates the bardic songs from Gaelic so that Waverley, "a worshipper of the Celtic muse,"62 can understand the words, singing a Jacobite ballad in a picturesque, Ossianic setting, in Chapter 22. Waverley, like American Graffiti, is about a time when song was still able to express people's true heart, and Wolfman Jack performs Mac-Murrogh's bardic role in the age of radio. The contrast noted above between the use of song by the idiotic Gellatley, the servant of the pompous Baron of Bradwardine, and that of Mac-Ivor's bard, exemplifies how, indeed, "Scott himself expressed a certain amount of ironic ambivalence toward the medieval mania he had helped to create."63 An ironic distance (that is, a difference in knowledge between the observer and the object) can be seen to characterize the modern sense of history, based as its scientific claim is on the differentiation between the historical object and the examining subject. Jameson grants Walter Scott a historicity which he denies to American Graffiti,64 considering it part of the postmodern trend where "the making of the unreal history is a substitute for the making of the real kind."65 In the neo-Marxist interpretation of history, the utopia of revolution becomes history-in-the-making, a fertile ground for romance comparable, paradoxically, to Scott's counter-revolutionary Jacobite song and Lucas's rock 'n' roll. A Scottish romance novel influenced by the Marxist view of history might well illustrate how Scott's association of song with a dying culture still applied in the twentieth century: Lewis Grassic Gibbon's A Scots Quair, a trilogy the first novel of which, Sunset Song (1932), bespeaks the symbolic weight that song actually has in the three parts. The overall plot is based on the contrast between the heroine, Chris Guthrie, and the men with whom she shares her adult life: her first husband Ewan Tavendale, a peasant who dies in the Great 61 Scott, Waverley, 130-31. 62 Scott, Waverley, 136. 63 Susan Aronstein, Hollywood Knights: Arthurian Cinema and the Politics of Nostalgia (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 16. 64 Jameson, Post-modernism, 283-85. 65 Jameson, Post-modernism, 369.
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War in the first novel; her second husband, Robert Colquhoun, a Church of Scotland minster of strong Socialist convictions, whose tragic life is told in the second novel (Cloud Howe, 1933), and Chris's son from the first marriage, young Ewan, whose gradual hardening into Communism is narrated in the third novel (Grey Granite, 1934). Grassic Gibbon endows the novels with a virtual soundtrack through allusions to different types of song and their ideological connotations: first, the traditional "heathen" ballads of the Scottish peasantry, then the popular ditties and religious hymns of industrial workers, the revolutionary songs of fellow travelers, and finally the American songs from "the Talkies": "That's what you get. Not revolutionary songs, but Ta-ra-ra, 'way down in Omaha. Mrs. Trease said Fegs, revolutionary songs gave her a pain in the stomach, they were nearly as dreich as hymns--the only difference being that they promised you hell on earth instead of in hell".66 Mrs. Trease voices a preference for the easy-going songs she hears in movies, which to her seem to be free from ideological pressure, over the "dreich" (a Scots word meaning "dreary" or "tiresome") Calvinist or Communist hymns, which implies that to her those American songs about distant places are a pleasant romantic escape from the political and religious realities that the hymns confronted. It is the romance of political action, however, that matters to the last of the trilogy's heroes, the younger Ewan Tavendale, as his materialist faith in Communism hardens into a granite-like determination that is compared to the solid faith expressed in the old Christian hymn "Rock of Ages," a central symbol from the second of the novels. Grassic Gibbon narrates how the dying utopias of the Scottish peasantry and Christian socialism are replaced, forgetting nostalgia, by faith in a future Communist world. Such ideological commitment is in direct contrast to American Graffiti, but it also ends with the hero leaving the culture of romantic songs behind and taking to a more realistic romance adventure. Young Ewan's rejection of sentimentalism and his conversion to the stark Red creed in A Scots Quair takes place, very significantly, at a dance; for the dance often symbolizes the social heart of utopia in historical romance. In the first novel of the trilogy, the wedding of Ewan's parents--the happiest moments in it--includes a scene with the peasant characters dancing to traditional Scottish tunes. In the third novel, the workers' Young League dance is 66 Lewis Grassic Gibbon, A Scots Quair (London: Hutchinson, 1950), 482 (italics as in the original).
a key turning point in the character's development. Ewan's girlfriend Ellen Johns falls in love with him, largely through the songs.67 A comparable glimpse of communion with the social ideal, though at the opposite extreme of the political spectrum, takes place in Scott's Waverley (Chapter 43) when its hero attends the Jacobite ball at Holyrood Palace, and becomes infatuated with the Chevalier's gallantry and his political cause. It should also be borne in mind that, as soon as he enters the Garden, the Lover in Le Roman de la Rose is invited to a courtly dance with allegorical figures of social virtues. In Chrйtien's romances, too, a sense of Social Integration and belonging to the courtly world is expressed in the wedding scene of Erec and Enide as "Puceles carolent et dancent, / Trestuit de joie feire tancent" ("The maidens sing and dance, and outdo each other in the merry-making").68 In American Graffiti the role of social communion defined above is performed by the Freshman Hop, the high-school dance which remains one of the most memorable scenes in the film. The representation of young couples dancing The Diamonds' "The Stroll" in syncopated steps gained the romantic poignancy of an "ancient rite," as the screenwriters themselves describe it,69 by the time Lucas's film was made. By then, dancing styles had changed radically, especially since the arrival of psychedelia, becoming more individualistic and self-centered, as they indeed have remained since the age of acid house and rave. Once again, it is irony that characterizes Lucas's approach to the romantic setting of the high school: Milner refuses to attend it because it is "for kids";70 all Curt does at the hop is talk to a dull teacher (Mr. Wolfe), before leaving to chase his dream girl; Steve is quarreling with his girlfriend Laurie while the microphone announces they are to lead off the next dance; and Terry does well not to attend the hop, since he picks up his own dream girl Debbie on the street. All of this ironically contradicts the conventional rhyme 67 "Oh, all true that they'd sung in the olden times in this queer Scotland that had felt so alien, the dark, queer songs of lust and desire, of men and women and this daftness of love, dear daftness in soft Scotch speech, on Scotch lips--daftness like this that she felt for Ewan." Grassic Gibbon, A Scots Quair, 431. By then, however, Ewan "was lost from his life forever," having given himself to the Communist cause entirely and lost his individual will to merge with the mass of young workers he has seen dancing around him. Ibid., 430. 68 Chrйtien de Troyes, Erec and Enide, trans. W.W. Comfort (Cambridge, Ontario: Parenthesis Publications), accessed April 4, 2014, http://www., 29, lines 2,047-2,048. This is not to say that the courtly dance always has the same positive meaning in Arthurian romance. In Malory's Tale of Balin le Savage (Book 2, Chapter 17 in Caxton's edition), however, the aim of the courtiers inviting the hero to their castle where "there was dancing and minstrelsy and all manner of joy" seems to be enticing him into a self-destructive confrontation with his brother Balan. 69 Lucas et al., American Graffiti, 10. 70 Lucas et al., American Graffiti, 10.
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(and identification) of "dance" with "romance."71 As in Waverley and A Scots Quair the heroes' individual concerns fall out of step with the harmony of the dancing mass and the songs. However, the natural harmony and innocence of the popular dance coincides with the qualities of medieval music in many modern performances of it.72 Moreover, the "ancient rite" recalls the ritual significance that Jessie Weston discovered in the "caroles" of the Arthurian Vulgate.73 Despite the ironic overtones, the Freshman Hop holds a mythic mesmerism.74 Romance and song in Scottish fiction has helped me to exemplify the development of song meaning in historical narrative from the rise of the historical novel to the uses of song in contemporary cinema, which will be further discussed in the next section. I conclude this section with a brief allusion to the cinematic adaptation of two Scottish novels in which popular music is important. The brisk electronic pop of Danny Boyle's film Trainspotting (1996) accompanies a screenplay that might be regarded as anti-romance, soundtracking the lives of junkie anti-heroes with no memories of a golden past or prospect of a future, only surviving in a day-to-day hedonistic present. Although there was no possible equivalent ballroom scene in Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting (1993), no utopian moment of social communion, in Rob Heydon's film Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy (2011) ecstasy-fueled disco scenes do play their role as transient utopias, like the Freshman Hop. Romance musical motifs will keep recurring even in very different styles and ages. 5. Rock of Ages: Pop music and film narrative It was natural for cinema to make the most of music and song in order to enhance a sense of romantic drama. In the nineteenth-century melodramatic theater there was, according to Pisani, a well-established use of "music to chart the emotional 71 For example in The Regents' "Barbara Ann," and in Chuck Berry's "Almost Grown": "Got my eye on a little girl / Ah she's really out of this world / When I take her to the dance / She's got to talk about romance." 72 Annette Kreutziger-Herr, "Imagining Medieval Music: A Short History," Studies in Medievalism, XIV: Correspondences: Medievalism in Scholarship and the Arts, ed. Tom Shippey with Martin Arnold (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2005), 81-109. 73 Janet Grayson, "In Quest of Jessie Weston," Arthurian Literature XI, ed. Richard Barber (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1992), 56. 74 The high-school dance, which was a central scene in the musical Grease (1971) and its film adaptation (Randal Kleiser, 1978), was demystified in films such as the adaptation of Stephen King's novel Carrie (Brian de Palma, 1976) and that of Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999).
and moral terrain and to underscore the villain's `errors,'" which from London's minor theaters was infused into the Anglo-American popular drama.75 The legacy of melos (in the sense of drama with music), which Hollywood studios adopted by the 1930s, resided in "keeping the audience in tune with the emotional significance of the action," as a theater critic had already observed in 1910.76 The early movie theaters, or nickelodeons, used illustrated song slides, which had been developed by vaudeville performers in the 1890s, as Altman notes, "to advertise short-lived popular songs."77 Then cinema also began to "use popular songs in film to replace melos."78 Although the function of melos was often as musical cues and a dramatic instrumental background to go with the action, movie-makers were quick to discover the power of song to jog historical memories, which was known at least since the Middle Ages, a mnemonic potential that modern science has just begun to explain.79 The phenomenon called "They're playing our song" also witnesses to the emotional power that particular songs have to those familiar with them.80 Just as the popular ballads made a decisive contribution to Scott's turning to historical romance, so popular songs have supported the growth of cinema from the beginning of sound, when The Jazz Singer (1927) used the popular art of Blackface Minstrelsy to exploit song within film. Another key starting point was A Hollywood Theme Song (1930), though this was a comedy short, not a feature-length film, featuring ten popular music numbers which relied on "audience recognition of the conventions of song use in early sound cinema."81 Hit songs of the 1930s would often be incorporated in films. There is, however, a great 75 Pisani, Music for the Melodramatic Theatre, 309. 76 Clayton Hamily, Theory of the Theatre (1910) cited by Pisani, Music for the Melodramatic Theatre, 310, 316. 77 Rick Altman, Silent Film Sound (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 182-83. See also Rick Altman, "Cinema and Popular Song: The Lost Tradition," in Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music, ed. Pamela Robertson Wojcik and Arthur Knight (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 19-30. 78 Pisani, Music for the Melodramatic Theatre, 317. 79 There is now clinical evidence that song facilitates memory (Stefan Koelsch and Walter A. Siebel, "Towards a neural basis of Music Perception," Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9, No. 12 (2005): 578-84 (582), particularly at the level of autobiographical knowledge (Petr Janata, Stefan T. Tomic and Sonja K. Rakowski, "Characterization of Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memories," Memory 15, No. 8 (2007): 845-60), and even with amnesic patients (Catherine Haslam and Michael Cook, "Striking a Chord with Amnesic Patients: Evidence that Song Facilitates Memory," Neorocase: The Neural Basis of Cognition 8, No. 6 (2002): 453-65). 80 See, for example, Bethany Klein, "They're Playing Our Song: Popular Music as a Marker of shared memory," paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Dresden International Congress Centre, Dresden, Germany, June 16, 2006, http:// p74679_index.html. 81 Katherine Spring, Saying It with Songs: Popular Music and the Coming of Sound to Hollywood Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 1.
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difference between the use of the Gershwin's "But Not For Me" in the stage musical and subsequent film Girl Crazy (1932), where the song is used chiefly on the grounds of its artistic effectiveness and popularity, and its more markedly nostalgic appropriation ten years later in But Not For Me, in which the song of the same title, now sung by Judy Garland, became loaded with memories of the famous popular song from the pre-war period. Appropriation of famous songs for the sake of nostalgia was, therefore, not an unknown practice before the 1950s, but it would receive its most significant impulse in the age of rock and pop music. Immediately before that, a stimulus for film songs came with the rise of the theme song around 1948, with Howard Hawks's Red River. As Khannanov argues, Dimitri Tiomkin "provided the Westerns he scored with an active, highly expressive title song," which, as his song "Red River" exemplifies, were a fusion of styles: "Irish folk songs, Scottish dance patterns, and Quaker motives--all tinted with a Russian element."82 While at the beginning the theme song drew on the "common spirit" behind different folkloric music traditions, it soon began to focus on more easily recognizable tunes. The Graduate (MGM/ Embassy Pictures, 1967) was one of the first films to offer a musical soundtrack with a significant proportion of songs taken directly from commercial records, even though many of the songs had been recently recorded, or newly produced for the film. American Graffiti was one of the first films, after Easy Rider (Columbia Pictures, 1969), to edit montage to music instead of composing the music score to fit the edited film. This practice was by no means confined to film: Producers of TV ads, who had traditionally used custom-written music for their mentally infectious "jingles," during the seventies and eighties increasingly preferred to put recent pop hits behind their hard-sell messages. In Britain, a number of agencies made their reputation through their choice of hip records in their campaigns for jeans, cars and beer, [...] leading to revival hits for soul singers Marvin Gaye, Ben E. King and Percy Sledge.83 82 Khannanov, "High Noon," 225. 83 Gillett, The Sound of the City, 488. No doubt there is a direct connection between romantic love songs and commercial messages: for example, the "wonder" line in "(Who Wrote) The Book of Love" is significantly akin to the contemporary Pepsodent toothpaste commercial, with the line "wonder where the yellow went" (this is mentioned by the Wikipedia entry of the song [accessed 22 May, 2015], but the source is not credited). As Smith points out, American Graffiti rode a wave of fifties nostalgia that was found on pop charts, in concert venues, and on television: see the last part of Chapter 7, "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay: The Case of American Graffiti," in Smith, The Sounds of Commerce, 172-84. The prevailing mood of nostalgia
Schoener argues plausibly that it was after the success of American Graffiti (1973) that using popular music within a continuous soundtrack became an accepted practice.84 To my knowledge no filmmaker has explored in greater depth than David Lynch the psychological complexities of remembering early 1960s pop songs, the trend that American Graffiti started. The title of Blue Velvet (1986) comes from an early 1950s song whose most popular recording was by Bobby Vinton in 1963. The initial scene in Lynch's thriller shows picket fences and flower beds, suggesting a small-town idyll interrupted by the collapse of a man who was watering the lawn. The man's son, a college student called Jeffrey Beaumont, comes home to visit his bedside and resumes a romance with a local girl, the daughter of a police detective. Beaumont comes across a severed human ear in a field (possibly a sign of the significance of listening in the film), which gets him and the detective involved in trying to solve the mystery. The trail leads them to a nightclub singer who is seen performing an alluring version of "Blue Velvet," the misleading simplicity of whose song (about passion for the remembered image of a lady dressed in blue velvet) is compounded by the sadomasochistic relation of the singer with a drug-sniffing gangster. In another scene, a partner gangster is shown lip-synching Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" (also recorded in 1963), which sends the first gangster into maudlin sadness, and then into a rage. Such uses of old hits in the film imply a perversion of small-town and suburban American ideals and the romantic songs they were associated with. It bears comparison with Mulholland Drive (2001), in which Lynch also presents characters lip-synching early 1960s songs in contexts that suggest, with hypnotic pull, fallen dreams of Hollywood stardom. Likewise, in Inland Empire (2006) Lynch uses "The Loco-Motion," a 1962 pop song, to suggest the delusive ambitions of a group of young prostitutes performing a synchronized dance of it in a darkened flat. Lynch's thrillers search for an answer to the question of what became of romance, and suggest that it only ever existed in song or in dream. A Knight's Tale (Columbia Pictures, 2001) may have been the first film with a medieval setting to use was exploited and commercialized in many forms, and films are certainly part of that marketing. But cinema cannot be reduced to marketing, and, besides exploiting commercial value, films do tell artful stories about their times, and nostalgia can take narrative forms it films as it does in Arthurian romance. 84 S.E. Schoener, "Motion Picture Sound part 2," accessed December 1, 2005,
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modern pop hits effectively, rather than promoting a new song through the film trailer like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Warner Bros. Pictures, 1991) did with Brian Adams's "Everything I Do."85 Instead of producing a score that evoked the Middle Ages through music of medieval inspiration, A Knight's Tale uses pop songs of the 1970s in a film released at the turn of the twenty-first century. The purposeful anachronism, along with the mixture of medieval and modern styles in clothing, dancing, and iconography, is meant to bring the Middle Ages to contemporary young audiences, rather than leading them back into the past, as historical films are often supposed to do. The spectators of tournaments in the film chorus songs by Queen and the protagonists dance to Bowie's "Golden Years" at a courtly ball. Thus A Knight's Tale plays on the very medieval connotations of romance that old pop songs may arouse. Troubadour song was amorous, appealing to private feelings, as well as social, to be shared and enjoyed within the lay community, with a touch of religious sentiment derived from Christianity. So are, in their own contrasting ways, "Rock of Ages," both the Christian hymn and the movie Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman, 2012), with its nostalgia for the 1980s rock age, the longing for an ever-receding past age of true hearts. The religious meaning of the eighteenth-century hymn "Rock of Ages" (a Christian hit in its own day) is replaced in the film by a new cult: the celebration of rock music and rock life per se, and of rock 'n' roll's epic battle against moralistic politics, hypocrisy, and greedy showbiz. The emotional appeal of romance through song is, primarily, personal and subjective, as Flinn argues (about melodrama and film noir): "the `something better' offered by their music is not something of another world, as some utopians, that is, those writers who insist on the use of music to project ideal worlds, have implied, but that which we bring to it as actual listeners."86 Interpretation comes to depend on how much the reader or viewer knows and feels a given song or style. In the case of Disney's TV production Teen Beach Movie (2013), the songs are not from the early 1960s, since the film is addressed to a present teenage audience who are not likely to be familiar with the old hits, but the music (and dressing) styles imitate them in recognizable ways. In spite (or because) of this psychological element, 85 Alison Tara Walker, "Towards a Theory of Medieval Film Music," in Medieval Film, ed. Anke Bernau and Bettina Bildhauer (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), 148. 86 Caryl Flinn, Strains of Utopia: Gender, Nostalgia and Hollywood Film Music (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 155.
romantic nostalgia can also be imbued with political connotations, as will be discussed next. 6. American Graffiti: the political meaning of nostalgia in songs The last important point I would like to make concerns the ambivalent politics resulting from the use of old songs in romance narrative. Beyond any conventional ideology, what these politics imply is a historical morphology partaking in the meaning of romance, which will lead directly to my concluding section. Romance has never been innocent of political meaning since medieval English kings used the Arthurian legends to unite their barons and sustain their claims of sovereignty over France. Many things changed in the U.S. and the world between 1962 and 1972. American Graffiti appeared in a pivotal year when the Vietnam War, demonstrations, and governmental corruption "were causing the cracks in America's consensus of the center to widen into seemingly uncrossable gulfs."87 Lucas first conceived his film as being basically about the curtailment of youth in his home town Modesto, California, at the onset of the Vietnam War, though by the time he got production funding the war was practically over, so its role in the plot was downplayed, the dominating cruising scene in the film "represented an innocence that disappeared forever," as Lucas would explain later.88 It did not matter if the film did not portray an accurate representation of the early 1960s, or if the songs, spanning a decade from the mid 1950s, were unlikely to be heard on any one particular evening in 1962: "What we are nostalgic for is not the past as it was or even as we wish it were; but for the condition of having been, with a concomitant integration and completeness lacking in any present."89 Thus the film, like Arthurian literature, succeeded in creating a past ideal for virtually any present. Popular songs played a crucial role in the recreation of the past, particularly in what has been termed "the compilation soundtrack."90 The songs were important 87 Aronstein, Hollywood Knights, 106. 88 Quoted by Jon Lewis, The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture (New York: Routledge, 2014), 133. 89 David Lowenthal, "Nostalgia Tells It Like It Wasn't," in The Imagined Past: History and Nostalgia, ed. Malcolm Chase and Christopher Shaw (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989), 29. 90 See Julie Hubbert, "The Compilation Soundtrack from the 1960s to the Present," in Neumeyer, The Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 291-318. However, the compilation soundtrack actually pre-dates cinema, as by the 1890s some theater "managers discovered added benefits in using a compilation score" (Pisani, Music for the Melodramatic Theatre, 311).
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enough for Lucas to spend 10% of his film budget getting the rights to them, as opposed to the 1% that is the usual cost of music in films.91 Since nostalgia is one of the most prominent emotions induced or expressed by music, it may be assumed that the songs are key to the emotional effect of the film.92 It would be require much space to discuss the lyrics of the 41 songs that the soundtrack of American Graffiti finally included, taking together their disparate topics to distill the overall, basic sentiments they express: some celebrate rock 'n' roll itself, some teach a method to dance the song within the community of the hop, some deal with the rules of conduct for romantic couples (mostly expressed from a male point of view), two of them with the sheer joy of being 16 (or having a 16-year-old girlfriend), some with the suffering that youthful love may bring, some long for a happy wedding, one cries for a teenage girl killed in a car crash, the Beach Boys go on a "Surfin' Safari," and so on. Musically, the songs range from the sentimentality of the slower pieces of soft rock93 to the sheer rhythmic and vitalist energy of classic rock 'n' roll, from doo-wop to rhythm and blues, generally evoking an age of sentimental feeling and drive. On the whole, the sentiments are light-hearted, so that The music in American Graffiti is treated as completely naturalized and tame. There is no indication that anyone could find such music shocking or objectionable. Thus, the film's opening homage to Blackboard Jungle seems unintentionally ironic; whereas "Rock around the Clock" had been accused of inciting riots among some audiences of that 1955 film, here it serves merely to remind us that we are in that quaint and innocent time called the fifties.94
the film is conservative or progressivist, the present article is chiefly concerned with the morphological analogy between the use of music in such films and the summoning of an innocent past in Arthurian romance. In musical terms, the sense of a historical morphology is explained in a very influential 1976 entry on "Art Rock" by John Rockwell: There is a morphology to artistic movements. They begin with a rude and innocent vigor, pass into a healthy adulthood and finally decline into an overwrought, feeble old age. Something of this process can be observed in the passage of rock and roll from the three-chord primitivism of the Fifties through the burgeoning vitality and experimentation of the Sixties to the hollow emptiness of much of the so-called progressive or "art" rock of the Seventies.97 American Graffiti participates in this sense of "decline," which Rockwell seems to have taken, along with the idea of a historical morphology analogous to the very medieval notion of the Ages of Man, from Oswald Spengler's Decline of the Western World.98 By the early 1970s a culture (musical as well as political) that was perceived to have been vital and vigorous ten years earlier seemed to have given out. Within the film itself a corresponding feeling is represented by the Freshman Hop which the protagonists feel too old to really enjoy except as a final exercise of nostalgia for the good old times. Milner expresses this feeling of decline in musical terms through his reaction to the Beach Boys, a new band Carol loves: "I don't like that surfing shit. Rock 'n' roll's been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died."99 An analogous feeling
Yet the mood is not just bland, conservative nostalgia, as Shumway assumes,95 since it may also possibly involve a critical hankering for something that was lost in American culture between the first age of rock 'n' roll and 1972.96 Nonetheless, whether nostalgia in 91 Jeff Smith, "The Tunes They Are a-Changing: Moments of Historical Rupture and Reconfiguration in the Production and Commerce of Music in Film," in Neumeyer, The Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies, 287. 92 "One of the striking findings across studies in this area [of emotional responses to music of different genres] is the prominence that nostalgia occupies in the spectrum of music induced feelings." Marcel Zentner and Tuomas Eerola, "Self-Report Measures and Models", in Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, Applications, ed. Patrik N. Juslin and John A. Sloboda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 206-207. 93 For a musicological comparison between "soft rock" and "rock," see Joe Stuessy, "Musical Close-up: Is Soft Rock Really Rock?" Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development, 2nd ed. (Eaglewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994), 80-84. 94 Shumway, "Rock 'n' Roll Sound Tracks," 46. 95 Shumway, "Rock 'n' Roll Sound Tracks," 42. 96 One of the most influential critics to have described the sort of
nostalgia in American Graffiti as evasive "memory without pain" is Paul Monaco, Ribbons in Time: Movies and Society since 1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 100, who is in turn citing Fred Davis, Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia (New York: The Free Press, 1979), 51. By contrast, for example, Lev argues that, despite its apparently "conservative, backward-looking agenda," "American Graffiti can also be seen as part of the anarchic, wildly innovative American film renaissance of the 1970s." Fred Lev, "Introduction: Nobody Knows Anything", American Films of the 1970s: Conflicting Visions (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 2010), no page number. 97 John Rockwell, "Art Rock", in Jim Miller, ed., The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll (New York: Random House, 1976), 322. 98 J.A. Burrow, The Ages of Man: A Study in Medieval Writing and Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) gives an account of the medieval idea and its roots in Classical Antiquity, as well as its influence on Arthurian literature: see pp. 174-77. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 202, also alludes to the Arthurian legend. 99 George Lucas et al., American Graffiti. The Beach Boys are paradigmatic of the stylistic change taking place in rock music "Surfin' Safari" (1962), the song included in American Graffiti, is from their debut album. Initially, their surf music was characterized by a simple style using their instruments without studio effects. In 1963 they produced "Surfin' U.S.A.", a song that had the same melody as Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" (1958). However, they subsequently began to experiment with sound texture, and eventually produced sophisticated pieces like "Good Vibrations" (1966)
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of the end of an age is also present at the end of the Middle Ages (though of course such an end is just a postmedieval perception) when William Caxton decided to publish the works of Thomas Malory under the general title Le Morte d'Arthur (1485), as a compilation of tales about the rise, decline and fall of the Round Table. It is the songs as a whole, and "The Book of Love" in particular, that provide the primary clues for interpreting American Graffiti in the light of American Arthuriana.100 The Arthurian connotation is confirmed by political chronology and myth-making: the crisis of the early 1970s looks back on its foundational period a decade before, in the days of JFK's Camelot. It is perhaps not entirely a coincidence that the Kennedy assassination in 1963, the year after that in which American Graffiti is set, marked a turning point with Arthurian connotations: the "Camelot myth" of JFK's presidency was given birth in the weeks following the assassination, in the echoes of the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot by Lerner and Loewe, which would inspire Joshua Logan's 1967 film.101 But the director of American Graffiti would then turn from looking back on a golden age to looking ahead through sci-fi fantasy. George Lucas, chiefly known today as a science-fiction filmmaker who made a single, pivotal movie about the past rather than the future, would definitely turn to Arthurian-like chivalry and epic romance through Star Wars. He seems to have thought it was time for nostalgia (borrowing Boym's distinction102) to become prospective, rather than retrospective, and, as he said, "to give young people an honest fantasy life."103 Pushing aside the ironies of American Graffiti, Star Wars would reassert his belief in which were far removed from their early freshness. See Stuessy, Rock and Roll, 100-103, and Katherine Charlton, Rock Music Styles: A History, 3rd ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998), 56-60. This could be interpreted as the culmination of the stylistic changes that were supposed to have begun after Buddy Holly's death. Though the character John Milner could not fully know what the Beach Boys represented, he mistrusts the novelty that even their early sound involved, and expresses the sense of decline that some rock fans might have even in the early 1960s, when, as Stuessy explains (Rock and Roll, 85), "the first rock 'n' roll shock wave had dissipated," Little Richard had turned toward religion, Jerry Lee Lewis's career was compromised by marital scandals, Chuck Berry was in jail, Buddy Holly dead, and "There seemed to be declining interest in hearing yet another twelve-bar blues or I-vi-IV-V song." 100 By American Arthuriana I understand not only how American culture and American authors adopt and develop Arthurian legends and literature, but also the possible influence it had on theM. Arthuriana is the name adopted for the quarterly of the North American branch of the International Arthurian Society. 101 This film marked the arrival of "a cinema of dissent," involving, in the case of the musical romance Camelot (1967), a representation of the ideal Middle Ages which flops in its attempt to "reinscribe" the social structures that Arthur Penn's Bonny and Clyde (1967) deconstruct. Aronstein, Hollywood Knights, 90-91. 102 Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001). 103 Lucas quoted in Aronstein, Hollywood Knights, 117.
what Frye would have defined as "an idealized world: in romance heroes are brave, heroines beautiful, villains villainous, and the frustrations, ambiguities, and embarrassments of ordinary life are made little of."104 Frustrations, ambiguities, and embarrassment had actually been as important in that film as the innocent or ideal aspects of romance. The musical romances that followed American Graffiti in the hands of other filmmakers were probably also less concerned than that film had been with historical change, the unreality of innocence, and the contradictions of romance in people's lives. 7. Concluding remarks: Back to the Future Middle Ages In the yearnings of nostalgia, past and future are ambiguously related [...] since, by the laws of narrative, to return to a "past"--for the good times to come again--one must go via a "future," as in the prophesied return of Arthur, the once and future king.105 The laws of linear narrative that Dell mentions rule that the wish to recover the lost past must imagine that recovery in a "future." Spielberg's production Back to the Future (1985), directed by Robert Zemeckis, and Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), set in 1955 and 1960 respectively, are examples of traveling back to the early rock 'n' roll era in the quest for the origins of romance. There is an implicit debt to American Graffiti in both films, in the way they recreate the age through its popular music, and in their location of the innocent origins of romantic relationships in the age of rock 'n' roll and old high-school teenage culture. The two 1980s films use the past for contrast with the present. Their satirical humor is in the vein of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), making fun of the conventional view of a legendary past, but their more "serious" plot explores the relations between past and present/ future in family and romantic relationships. Far from being free of trouble, the past age is full of drama and conflicts, and by solving them the hero or heroine will make for a better present: understanding past mistakes helps them sort out current problems. What both films actually do is travel to the past to rewrite it for the future. Unlike American Graffiti, they do not dwell on the past, or try to see it in its strangeness 104 Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, 151. 105 Dell, "Yearning for the sweet beckoning sound," 176.
© The International Film Music Society 2017.
and distance; they just consider the past as the origin of the present and future, not as something sadly lost forever. In pre-modern romance the feeling of song is conservative, a longing for what has been irretrievably lost but should be emulated in the present (Arthur as speculum principis, a "mirror" or role-model for princes), whereas in Scott's modern historical romance and in A Scots Quair the lost past had better not be imitated; progress must go on, though a heroic sadness for what is irretrievably lost lingers on in the songs. It is nostalgia of the kind that would be called reflective, dwelling on "longing and loss," rather than restorative: that is, bent on "rebuilding the lost home."106 In a postmodern product such as American Graffiti feelings are mixed: there is no point in recovering the past, which was both puerile (like the songs) and oppressive, a place from which the intelligent grown-up must escape, yet one that will remain part of us, a fictional ideal which is pleasant to dream up as we listen to the songs.107 The characteristic ironic tinge of romance recedes with a revival of the epic in Star Wars.108 In decisively turning to space opera, Lucas dispensed with the popular song tradition. Music was still very important to him, and the award-winning music score composed by John Williams for Star Wars included references to various musical traditions, ranging from the symphonic main theme to the jazzy music of the aliens' tavern. However, the score is basically neo-Romantic, and based on the symphonic styles Williams imitated (Korngold, Holst, Prokofiev, Stravinsky). Such music could not possibly be as charged with feeling and nostalgia as the golden oldies in American Graffiti and later movies after its pattern, where songs endow the film with a "synergy" which both enhances and rivals the main plot.109 Romance
has always been simultaneously fascinated by, and wary of, the lure of old songs. The evocative function of song, which began as an association of love songs with a happy past time and became an often ironic interaction between innocent songs and historical narrative, has existed since the medieval inception of romance. It revived in the age of Romanticism. What Goethe called das Unerforschliche ("the unreachable"), an awareness of the distance between man and nature (between wishes and reality, between music and world, between past and present) that no word could bridge, became the source of the romantic irony, which also proved relevant to musicians in the Romantic era such as Beethoven.110 It also had a continuity in modern literary romance (which has been exemplified by Scottish novels, but examples could probably be found in other literatures), and it emerged significantly in film during the rock 'n' roll age. Not that cinema needed to imitate literature. Old song has an essential link with romance, so that, by adapting literary romance, film was eventually bound to incorporate popular songs to narrative. In the inquiry now concluding I have adopted the sort of focus that Wittgenstein called "morphological," because it draws attention not to the historical or evolutionary hypothesis per se, but to the internal relation between the use of song in romance and its use in American Graffiti and other films, nur um unser Auge fьr einen formalen Zusammenhang zu schдrfen ("only in order to sharpen our eye for a formal connection").111 My inquiry started, like Wittgenstein's often did, from the meaning of a particular word, the word "romance" in American Graffiti. Like Ginzburg, a historian who adopted a similar approach for a different purpose, I have not used the morphological inquiry to prove historical connections which, at the present stage, are too complex to ascertain, but
106 Boym, Future of Nostalgia, 41. 107 What I call "the feeling of song" in this paragraph encapsulates the general approach in the whole article. While within the larger musicological context it may be the area called "music and words," studied by scholars such as Albrecht Riethmьller in Berlin (see, for example, Words and Music Studies: Defining the Field, ed. Walter Bernhart et al. [Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999]) the approach is also akin to what Professor Rosar pointed out to me in an email quoting from Mendelssohn's correspondence, where the composer wrote "the same words never mean the same things to others. Only the song can say the same thing, can arouse the same feelings in one person as in another, a feeling that is not expressed, however, by the same words" (Felix Mendelssohn, Song without Words, ed. Willard A. Palmer [Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing Company, 1993], 3). Thus, although I did focus on the words of "The Book of Love" because of the clues to the meaning of romance it offered, no exhaustive analysis of lyrics has been attempted here, as I believe they only partially account for the affect of music on listeners. 108 This was, according to Aronstein, Hollywood Knights, 117-118, a more suitable narrative mode for the Reaganite era that began. 109 T. O'Sullivan, B. Dutton and P. Rayner, Studying the Media, 2nd ed. (London: Arnold, 1998), 197. Such synergies did not originate in film, of course. For example, in Baroque genres such as the emblem or la devise, different components of verse, the visual, and musical allusion worked
together synergistically to create a combined Gestalt effect. 110 See Rey M. Longyear, "Beethoven and Romantic Irony," The Musical Quarterly, 56, No. 5 (1970): 647-64. Friedrich Schlegel is credited with the most important attempts to produce a definition of romantic irony. Initially he defined it as "logical beauty"; then, as part of his concern with fragments as a form of expression, he argued that the gaps between these fragments (whether aphorisms or various essays) represent the ironic disjunction between the totality of meaning and the fragmentation of its expression in language; eventually he called romantic irony "a permanent parabasis," which suggests an endless transgression and suspension of closure, including that of its own definition. Christopher John Murray, ed., Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era: 1760­1850 (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004), 565. Of these three definitions the most relevant for our purposes is the second: in the compilation soundtrack the songs are those fragments that must always fail to reach the sort of totality of meaning that is possible in an original scoring. As for the connection between Beethoven's music, film scoring, and rock, the classic example is Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), which uses classical pieces (actually more Rossini than Beethoven, though the protagonist is particularly obsessed by the latter) in an analogous way to rock songs in other films. 111 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Occasions, 132-33.
© The International Film Music Society 2017.
"The meaning of romance" 71
rather "as a probe, to explore a deep, otherwise unattainable stratum."112 Filmmakers such as Lynch are characteristically elusive about what they mean by including songs from the decade before 1965 in their films. They prefer their audiences to make their own interpretations. Yet it is easy to infer that the naive songs open gates into a deeply subjective time when life is imagined as simpler (though not always better), which is one of the key aspects of medievalism today. It was the appeal that the world of King Arthur once acquired through romance. Despite postmodernism's refusal to go on searching for meaning in foundational myths, contemporary culture continues to draw on concepts such as romantic love, whose discourse
derives from way back in pre-modern culture. This is most evident in popular culture in its various narrative forms, including rock music, film genres where love songs play a meaningful part, and romance novels. Since romance, in the strict narrative sense, was not something that always existed in human culture, but a medieval creation, and neither medieval romance nor the Middle Ages will ever be the same, the postmedieval will be constantly re-lived. The process is at work whenever a film uses old songs to evoke the past emotionally. It is a medievalist process that challenges the received wisdom that cinema is a quintessentially modern form of art.
112 Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstacies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 16. © The International Film Music Society 2017.
Adorno, Theodor W. 2002. Essays on music, ed. R. Leppert, trans. S.H. Gillespie. Berkeley: University of California Press. Allison, Deborah. 2003. Do not forsake me: The ballad of High Noon and the rise of the movie theme song. Senses of Cinema, 28. Accessed March 9, 2015. ballad_of_high_noon/ Altman, Rick. 2001. Cinema and popular song: The lost tradition. In Soundtrack available: Essays on film and popular music, ed. Pamela Robertson Wojcik and Arthur Knight, 19-30. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https:/ ------. 2004. Silent film sound. New York: Columbia University Press. Aronstein, Susan. 2005. Hollywood knights: Arthurian cinema and the politics of nostalgia. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. https:/ Baldick, Chris. 1990. The concise Oxford dictionary of literary terms. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Baudrillard, Jean. 1983. Simulations. Trans. P. Foss, P. Patton, and P. Beitchmann. New York: Semiotext(e). Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. 2002. The classical Hollywood cinema: Film style and mode of production to 1960. London: Routledge. Boulton, Maureen Barry MacCann. 1993. The song in the story: Lyric insertions in French narrative fiction, 1200­ 1400. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Boym, Svetlana. 2001. The future of nostalgia. New York: Basic Books. Burns, Jane E. 1985. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be: The Middle Ages in literature and film. In Shadows of the magic lamp: Fantasy and science fiction in film, ed. George Slusser and Eric Rabin, 86-97. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. Burrow, J.A. 1988. The ages of man: A study in medieval writing and thought. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Carroll, Noлl. 1988. Mystifying movies: Fads and fallacies in contemporary film theory. New York: Columbia University Press. Charlton, Katherine. 1998. Rock music styles: A history. 3rd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill. Chaucer, Geoffrey. 1988. The Riverside Chaucer. General editor: Larry D. Benson. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chrйtien de Troyes. 1999. Erec and Enide. Trans. W.W. Comfort. Cambridge, Ontario: Parenthesis Publications. Accessed April 4, 2014. ------. 1999. Yvain. Trans. W.W. Comfort. Cambridge, Ontario: Parenthesis Publications. Accessed April 4, 2014. DeAngelis, William James. 1994. Wittgenstein and Spengler. Dialogue 33, 41-61. https:/ S0012217300038750 Davis, Fred. 1979. Yearning for yesterday: A sociology of nostalgia. New York: The Free Press. Dell, Helen. 2011. "Yearning for the sweet beckoning sound": Musical longings and the unsayable in medievalist fantasy fiction. Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies 2: 171-85. https:/doi. org/10.1057/pmed.2011.3 © The International Film Music Society 2017.
"The meaning of romance" 73 ------. 2008. Desire by gender and genre in trouvиre song. Cambridge: Boydell & Brewer. Donaldson, William. 1988. The Jacobite song: Political myth and national identity. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press. Driver, Martha and Sid Ray, eds. 2004. The medieval hero on screen: Representations from Beowulf to Buffy. London: MacFarland. Dwyer, Michael D. 2012. The same old songs in Reagan-era teen film. Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media 3 (Summer): 1-14. Accessed September 19, 2016. Issue%203/PDFs/ArticlesPDF/ArticleDwyer.pdf. Flinn, Caryl. 1992. Strains of Utopia: Gender, nostalgia and Hollywood film music. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. https:/ Frye, Northrop. 1971. Anatomy of criticism. Four essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ------. 1976. The secular scripture: A study of the structure of romance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Fuchs, Barbara. 2004. Romance. The New Critical Idiom Series. London: Routledge. Fugelso, Karl. 2009. Medievalism from here. In Studies in Medievalism 17: 86-91. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. Geoffrey of Monmouth. 1999. History of the kings of Britain. Trans. Aaron Thompson. Cambridge, Ontario: Parenthesis Publications. Accessed April 23, 2014. pdf Gillett, Charlie. 1996. The sound of the city: The rise of rock and roll. 3rd ed. London: Souvenir Press. Ginzburg, Carlo. 1991. Ecstacies: Deciphering the witches' Sabbath. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Grassic Gibbon, Lewis. 1950. A Scots quair. London: Hutchinson. Grayson, Janet. 1992. In quest of Jessie Weston. In Arthurian Literature XI, ed. Richard Barber, 1-80. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. Hagen, Earle. 1971. Scoring for films. New York: E.D.J. Music. Happй, Peter. 1991. Song in morality plays and interludes. Lancaster: Medieval English Theatre Monographs, 1. Haslam, Catherine and Michael Cook. 2002. Striking a chord with amnesic patients: Evidence that song facilitates memory. Neorocase: The Neural Basis of Cognition 8, No. 6: 453-65. Hubbert, Julie. 2014. The compilation soundtrack from the 1960s to the present. In The Oxford handbook of film music studies, ed. David Neumeyer, 291-318. New York: Oxford University Press. Huot, Sylvia. 1987. From song to book: The poetics of writing in Old French lyric and lyrical narrative poetry. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Inglis, Ian, ed. 2003. Popular music and film. London: Wallflower Press. Jameson, Fredric. 2009. Post-modernism. Or, the cultural logic of late capitalism. London: Verso. Janata, Petr, Stefan T. Tomic and Sonja K. Rakowski. 2007. Characterization of music-evoked autobiographical memories. Memory 15, No. 8: 845-60. https:/ Kay, Sara. 1996. "The contradictions of courtly love and the origins of courtly poetry: The evidence of the Launzengiers. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 26, No. 2: 209-53. © The International Film Music Society 2017.
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