10 introduction
in their departure from the simplicity of the interpolated song sequence, en-
dowing film songs with a narrative function and thematic significance. Yet the
progression from a primitive, interruptive form to a mature, integrated one
quickly collapses. Teo laments that “the musical in its integrative form where
music, songs, characters and plots were inter- related to each other, survived
only for a short period in the late 50s,” before reverting to its earlier interrup-
tive tendencies.26
The difficulty of sustaining a developmental account of gechang pian that
takes integration as its main criterion, and the considerable number of films
that must be dismissed on such a basis, tells us that this notion cannot fully
account for what these films are doing and that their musical content is not
just a means to narrative ends. As Altman asks in his study of the American
film music, “are there texts commonly called musicals which in fact operate
according to a logic different from the vast majority of other musicals?”27 My
discussion of gechang pian grapples with this question, beginning from the
premise that their musical attractions— inextricable from the appeal of the
singing star— must be analyzed on their own terms. I treat the figure of the song-
stress as key to articulating the specific logic, forms, and modes of address of
gechang and gewu pian. In doing so, my aim is not only to flesh out a historical
understanding of Chinese cinema and its soundscape, but also to work toward
a more nuanced and expansive reflection on the intersections of music and
cinema on a global plane, in which Hollywood occupies a decentered position.
Do the musical and vocal manifestations of Chinese cinema indeed mobilize
logics of pre sen ta tion, per for mance, and identification that confound our ex-
pectations? To borrow a phrase from Dyer, what happens in the space of a song?
Dyer’s own exploration of this last question endeavors to articulate the
unique ways in which songs in film make sense— a pro cess steeped in linguis-
tic and narrative conventions but also spilling beyond these conventions with
the immediate, visceral, and sensuous impact of song per for mance. As Dyer
argues, songs seem to hold out a direct channel to feeling and physicality and
therefore to collapse the distance between singer and listener, to transcend the
ordinary. They entail a transformation in the phenomenal experience of the
spectator- auditor because “song, as befits an oral art, makes great use of repeti-
tion and redundancy and thus has an overall tendency towards a sense of sta-
sis, towards not going or getting anywhere, to a sense of tableau, of suspended
time. This is highly suggestive in the context of time and space in film.”28
effects described by Dyer apply as well to gechang pian, in which songs also
pause the flow of diegetic time, prolong a moment and mood, heighten the
emotional temperature, and even create an alternative reality. In giving the
Previous Page Next Page