Editors' Contribution

Sounds of Romance: Musicalizing Cinematic Passion

Author:

Abstract

Keywords:

How to Cite: Chinen Biesen, S. (2021) “Sounds of Romance: Musicalizing Cinematic Passion”, Film Criticism. 45(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.3998/fc.1058

While apocalyptic disaster films (some with love ballads) surged in popularity as Covid-19 raged in early 2020,1 a year later — as deaths from the pandemic rose to nearly 600,000 in the United States — many took to social media to express their weariness with gloom and doom. “I just can’t watch another season of The Handmaid’s Tale. I loved it, but I’m done now. There’s been enough gloom in the past year. #pandemic #itsbadenough.”2 Rather, a number of viewers instead opted in favor of lighter romantic comedy and musical fare on screen.

Love, songs and dance became cinematic comfort food. In fact, by 2021 the most popular title on Netflix was the hugely successful melodic long-form period romance Bridgerton, which boasted an impressive 82 million viewers in four weeks. Bridgerton outpaced an array of grittier brooding noir and grisly Gothic horror content, even surpassing smash The Queen’s Gambit (with 62 million viewers), to become the biggest hit ever for the streaming media giant. “I have nothing but excitement for Bridgerton continuing to steam train off and conquer the globe,” said British-Zimbabwean star Regé-Jean Page, who brilliantly portrayed Simon Basset the Duke of Hastings in Shonda Rhimes’ hip multiracial Shondaland Netflix adaptation of the Julia Quinn Regency romance saga.3

Bridgerton was infused and punctuated by love, courtship, classical music iterations of popular songs, dances and an iconic musical score by composer Kris Bowers. Not only was the series a huge hit on Netflix. A plethora of musical spin-offs reimagining the series have also proliferated on Youtube and other internet sites, thus allowing rabid fans to relive the romance through music.

For instance, viewers can vicariously musically immerse themselves in the star couple Daphne and Simon’s dances and repartee, Daphne and Simon’s last sensuous rain-soaked waltz dance, and Daphne’s confession of love to Simon. Fans can even watch musical rehearsals of the dances between Phoebe Dynevor’s Daphne Bridgerton Duchess of Hastings and Regé-Jean Page’s Simon Basset Duke of Hastings juxtaposed with the final musical sequence, as well as discussions of the score to Bridgerton’s romantic dances with commentary by composer Kris Bowers detailing the music on Youtube.

Comfort Sounds: Bridgerton https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWHHSSdnUhQ

Page was acclaimed for his performance in award-winning Bridgerton, earning the NAACP Image Award for outstanding actor in a drama series. Page also played a jazz musician in Eugene Ashe’s Sylvie’s Love with Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha on Amazon. In fine musical romantic form, these tuneful cinematic productions boasted a happy ending and an engrossing love story. “One of the things that is different about this [romance] genre is that the audience knows” that things will work out in the end, Page explained. “They come in knowing that, so you can tie people in emotional knots because they have that reassurance that we’re going to come out and we’re going to have the marriage and the baby.”4

Such cinematic ‘reassurance’ can also be seen in an assortment of musical romance one hour chill lounges on Youtube, such as Bridgerton Ambience & Music: Rain at the Hastings Ball | Study, Relax, Sleep, a soothing musical iteration of the couple’s last dance, Bridgerton Ambience & Music: The Ball | Study & Relax, the Sincere about Bridgerton Pop Orchestra playlist featuring the Vitamin String Quartet, One Hour Bridgerton Intro Theme Song of the romantic musical Opening Credits, Kris Bowers’ classical music rendition of “Strange” and Vitamin String Quartet’s “In My Blood” from the Bridgerton Netflix Original Soundtrack.

Similarly, Youtube features Sylvie’s Love | Best Musical Moments from Amazon Prime Video. Ambient Worlds also provides romantic Jane Austen tunes for comfort, solace and reflection, as in: Pride & Prejudice | Peaceful Music & Ambience - 3 Iconic Scenes from the 2005 Film. Miramax offers musical sequences ‘The Country Dance’ from 2007 Jane Austen film Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy. Anya Taylor-Joy dances in 2020 Jane Austen film Emma.

But Anya Taylor-Joy’s most memorable musical sequence was her destructive, obsessive dance of death to Shocking Blue’s “Venus” (on television) in her acclaimed Award-winning performance as drug and alcohol addicted chess champ Beth Harmon in Netflix’ The Queen’s Gambit — which resembles an MTV music video ‘anti-romance,’ defying conventional expectations by denying its rebellious independent heroine a final romantic union.

Anya Taylor-Joy’s dance to Shocking Blue’s “Venus” in Netflix’ The Queen’s Gambit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSEnzwTOktU

Youtube features a virtual music lounge with Carlos Rafael Rivera’s The Queen’s Gambit score https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GandEyA65EA

Classic film musical romance abounds on Youtube. Musicalized cinematic romance infused uplifting comedies throughout the Great Depression. In fact, Hollywood Production Code censors encouraged romance as music showcased sound in films.5 Rodgers and Hart’s “Isn’t It Romantic?” is woven into 1932 musical comedy Love Me Tonight. Love, aquatic dance and abundant water permeate Busby Berkeley’s “ By A Waterfall” musical sequence in 1933 Footlight Parade. Alan Hale sings “ Young people in love are never hungry” in 1934 Best Picture It Happened One Night. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers even saved RKO studio from receivership with Top Hat (1935) famously dancing “ Cheek to Cheek,” singing of “ Heaven” and “ Isn’t This a Lovely Day.” Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn croon “ I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” to leopard Baby in Bringing Up Baby (1938).

James Stewart sings “ Over the Rainbow” as he carries a wet Hepburn after a romantic late-night swim in The Philadelphia Story (1940). Gene Kelly danced in love and joy in Jazz Age musical romantic comedy Singin’ in the Rain (1952) amid the Cold War. Simon and Garfunkel sing “ April Come She Will” in an extended musical interlude in The Graduate. An unlikely couple dances as Doris Day sings “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” in Strictly Ballroom. A courtesan sings “ One Day I’ll Fly Away” and a montage of love songs in Moulin Rouge. Bridget Jones’s Diary musicalizes Jane Austen to Diana Ross’ “ Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Romantic comedy The Devil Wears Prada creates a fashion music video to Madonna’s “ Vogue.” Legally Blonde musically opens and ends with “ Perfect Day” by Hoku as heroine Reese Witherspoon pursues her romantic (and career) dreams — then is engaged to be married. Youtube also features professional passion and romantic love with music from Nathan Barr’s score for 2021 Netflix original Halston, including his haunting “ The End.”

The sounds of music and romance have indeed been timely. For instance, as Deadline reported, “In the depths of the winter coronavirus surge,” Bridgerton “brought a much needed respite and…provided escapism with its vibrant mix of Jane Austen-meets-Gossip Girl while also redefining the period drama and romance genres with its contemporary storytelling and multi-racial casting.” Star Phoebe Dynevor observed, “Just seeing how much it has impacted people’s lives and people saying on the street, ‘Wow, thank you, we really loved your show’, moments like that are really lovely, especially in a time that has been quite difficult for a lot of people.”6

Author Biography:

Dr. Sheri Chinen Biesen is Professor of Film History at Rowan University and author of Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), Music in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), and Film Censorship: Regulating America’s Screen (Columbia University Press, 2018). She received her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, M.A. and B.A. at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television and has taught at USC, University of California, University of Texas, and in England. She has contributed to BBC documentary The Rules of Film Noir, The Netflix Effect: Technology and Entertainment in the 21st Century, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Hollywood on Location, Film and History, Film Noir: The Directors, Literature/Film Quarterly, Turner Classic Movies’ Public Enemies Warner Bros. Gangster Collection, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Film Noir: The Encyclopedia, Gangster Film Reader, Film Noir Reader 4, Historian, Television and Television History, Popular Culture Review, served as Secretary of Literature/Film Association, Founding Chair of ‘Stars & Screen’ Film & Media History Conference, serves on the editorial board of Film Criticism, and edited The Velvet Light Trap.

Links:

Daphne and Simon’s Bridgerton musical dance repartee https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfUl_0KDM1U

Daphne and Simon’s last Bridgerton rain waltz dance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7Ui-XZsYNQ

Daphne’s Bridgerton dance and confession to Simon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH_uvSxdoQU

Rehearsal of Bridgerton musical dance between Daphne and Simon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-bS_LtNGLI

Composer Kris Bowers discussion of Bridgerton score https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x3oH3h32GY

Bridgerton Ambience & Music: Rain at the Hastings Ball | Study, Relax, Sleep https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD-jZNC0x8Q

Bridgerton Ambience & Music: The Ball | Study & Relax https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgN9286tfRs

Sincere about Bridgerton Pop Orchestra playlist featuring the Vitamin String Quartet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWHHSSdnUhQ

One Hour Bridgerton Intro Theme Song / Opening Credits https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGZh52IzLGU

Kris Bowers’ “Strange” from the Bridgerton Soundtrack https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He3PmtxUnVI

Vitamin String Quartet’s “In My Blood” from the Bridgerton Soundtrack https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNcK8P-2YWQ

Sylvie’s Love | Best Musical Moments from Amazon Prime Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tUVVxAdBPk

Pride & Prejudice | Peaceful Music & Ambience - 3 Iconic Scenes from the 2005 Film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYKf2MyQfWM

‘The Country Dance’ | Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgZk5aYJLFs

Anya Taylor-Joy’s dance to Shocking Blue’s “Venus” in Netflix’ The Queen’s Gambit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSEnzwTOktU

Love Me Tonight - Rodgers and Hart’s “Isn’t It Romantic?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGNQ7TrVDrg

Top Hat “Cheek to Cheek” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILxo-TUkzOQ

Top Hat “Isn’t This a Lovely Day” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dl6FLfHTC68

Notes

  1. Chris Lindahl, “Beyond ‘Contagion’: Interest in Outbreak Movies, Podcasts, and More Surges Across the Internet,” IndieWire, March 17, 2020. https://www.indiewire.com/2020/03/contagion-pandemic-outbreak-movies-coronavirus-1202218477/ [^]
  2. LCarley, @LCarley1, Twitter, 6 May 2021, 5:41pm. https://twitter.com/LCarley1/status/1390421491364290576 [^]
  3. Angelique Jackson, “‘Bridgerton’ Breakout Regé-Jean Page…,” Variety, 2 April 2021. https://variety.com/2021/tv/news/rege-jean-page-bridgerton-season-2-1234942827/ [^]
  4. Angelique Jackson, “’Bridgerton’ Breakout Regé-Jean Page…,” Variety, 2 April 2021. https://variety.com/2021/tv/news/rege-jean-page-bridgerton-season-2-1234942827/ [^]
  5. Sheri Chinen Biesen, Film Censorship: Regulating America’s Screen, Columbia University Press, 2018. [^]
  6. Nellie Andreeva, “‘Bridgerton’ Creator and Stars Talk Series’ Success…,” Deadline, 15 May 2021. https://deadline.com/2021/05/bridgerton-phoebe-dynevor-nicola-coughlan-chris-van-dusen-interview-contenders-tv-1234748542/ [^]