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Title: The Singing Subject: Women and Voice in Contemporary Cinema
Contributor(s): Kirkham, Janeen Helen (author); Plunkett, Felicity (supervisor); O'Sullivan, Jane (supervisor)
Conferred Date: 2006
Copyright Date: 2005
Open Access: Yes
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Abstract: Questions surrounding 'voice' and 'being heard' are defining ones for feminist, psychoanalytic and film theories pertaining to women's subjectivity. However, visual aspects of film have dominated discussions concerning representations of women. Although theorising about film music and sound has increased in recent years, relatively little work has considered the functions and effects of diegetic singing. In ways similar to Laura Mulvey's pivotal work on film representations of women as objects of the male gaze, Kaja Silverman's theorising on the aural dimensions of female representation suggests women always remain 'contained' by the classic film narrative. Yet in contemporary cinema there are singing sequences that resist perceptions of women characters' containment, suggesting that singing, as a potentially empowering form of communication, bears closer scrutiny. Through close analysis of eleven contemporary films, in which diegetic singing or its representation plays a pivotal role, this thesis fuses film music and sound theories, feminist psychoanalytic film theories and textual analysis, to consider in detail particular girl and women characters as singing subjects, the aural dimensions of the female homosocial, and how singing and songs work as an expression of a character's subjectivity. An investigation of performance and gender performativity, and singer 'types,' provides a structuring framework from which to consider whether singing is a transgressive and transformative action for female characters. A diverse range of singing sequences in which a solitary woman sings, or a woman sings for another in intimate proximity, or women sing together in collective situations, cultivates acoustic spaces in film that expand the possibilities of women's expression, analogous to the aims of 'écriture féminine'. These are spaces that have the potential power to disturb the phallocentric dominance of language suggested by psychoanalytic and feminist film theories. Understanding the singing subject opens up new ways of considering women's representation, and how the singing voice allows acoustic authority for women to transgress both cinematic containment and patriarchal hegemony. Singing can be both disruptive and empowering. In the films that I discuss, it is women's collective singing that results in the most positive consequences for female expression.
Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Rights Statement: Copyright 2005 - Janeen Helen Kirkham
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
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