Meeting Report: ‘Can we hear ‘girlhood’? Female adolescence as musical affect in film’ 16th Jan

Hello everyone!

A big thank you again from Sophie and I (Maria) to Gemma Edney who drove all the way from Exeter to come speak to us. I was keen to hear Gemma speak again after seeing her present in Exeter last year. Thanks again to our regulars who attended and asked some intriguing questions. It was a really enjoyable talk and Q and A. It’s very hard to summerise such a detailed and thoughtful presentation but here are a few highlights…

Gemma explored how ‘girlhood’ is conveyed through music in film. She presented some very interesting theories such as Kristeva’s theory that music is a feminine derivative because it is pre-verbal. It resembles the sounds the baby can hear in the womb which can be interpreted without understanding language. Gemma also spoke about universal signs of girlhood that we immediately recognize including princesses, joy, dresses, and diamonds. Gemma quoted Monica Swindle who says the following about girlhood: ‘Feeling Girl, Girling Feeling: An Examination of “Girl” as Affect’ (2011): “‘Girl’ is certainly a signifier; however, there is now a distinct affect animating and in excess of the signifier “girl” in Western late capitalist societies. This affect, girl, circulates with/among objects, including signifiers, giving materiality to certain collectives of bodies (most often though not necessarily young feminine bodies), rendering them girls, and sticking to certain objects and people to create girl culture. This affect has been appropriated and deployed in contemporary culture by marketers (among others) but also by feminists.”

Gemma explained that there are various musical characteristics that listeners often associate with femininity such as the time signature (three beats per bar), the instruments (such as the flute), and the style (such as soft or even erratic). Gemma focused on the film Bande de filles directed by Céline Sciamma and introduced us to the film Le Herisson. In the latter, each character has their own score to differentiate between them. The older woman (Madame Michel) has a solemn soundtrack incorporating low pitched string instruments and the 12 year old girl (Mademoiselle Paloma) has a more lighthearted soundtrack with piano, strings, and percussion.

On the subject of Girlhood, Gemma demonstrated how the film follows many conventions which signify girlhood with its use of the song ‘Diamonds’ by Rihanna to accompany the main four characters dancing. Rihanna, who often refers to herself as a girl, such as in the song ‘Only Girl (in the World), is seen as a universal symbol of girlhood. Her song was deliberately chosen by the director in order to convey a message of girlhood and the scene was so central to the film it was even recorded before Rihanna gave her permission. Gemma also observed that the original musical score of the film mimics the characters’ behaviour: it is loud and erratic. It is pulsating, percussive and has an uneven rhythm to represent the girl gang’s youth and lack of direction in life.

In the Q and A we questioned what stage in life girlhood ends. We compared it to boyhood which seems to have a more definite ending. An example was given of the film Boyhood which ends when the protagonist reaches 18. We also realised that Gemma’s talk will change the way in which we watch films from now on. I stated that this was now an excuse to watch some of my favourite films again! Legally Blonde anyone?

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