Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Lady in the Lake, Choral Voices, and Narrative Agency

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2021), 15, (1), 37–69.


A notable feature of the use of choral voices in cinema is the attenuation of language; singers hum, vocalise, and sing in invented or dead languages. Such an approach applies across genres and sees choruses used in two related ways: as evocations of human and inhuman collectives, and as celebrants of spectacle and narrative resolution. I argue that this approach is dictated by the particular implication of human agency that the voice, as opposed to the musical instrument, promotes. I sketch the ontological properties of choral voices in cinema and analyse Lady in the Lake (Robert Montgomery, 1947). As well as being a singular experiment in first-person camera, the film is significant for its a cappella score, the only one of its kind in classical cinema, motivated, I argue, by the film’s distinct narrative strategy.

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