Post on “Emma”

This movie Emma directed by Douglas McGrath of 1996 is one that truly encompasses Skinner’s three categories of love, menace, and comedy. While primarily centered around love, we get moments of anguish amongst characters and little humorous parts too. The music heard is mostly non-diegetic as it is also primarily empathetic towards the emotion of the scenes. We first hear an atmospheric sounding, almost lullaby string and harp/piano theme in the intro where the globe is shown spinning in space. We hear this same lullaby-like theme return many times in the film, particularly in the moments where Emma and other characters around her are feeling in good spirits. In the moments of frustration, anguish, and/or turmoil, we hear different themes like those in minor keys and those often-containing instruments playing in lower registers.

One moment that stood out to me personally was the scene where Harriet and Emma are seen weaving or sewing in the tent outside (1:04). Here the two characters are each expressing their own thoughts on the men they know in a rather pondering sort of way. To bring added value to this moment, the music we hear is a light flute melody accompanied by light plucks in the strings to accompany the melody. The rhythmic string plucks give feeling to this sense of pondering that the two women feel as they speak to one another. However, the flute melody in a major key also assures us that the scene is not by any means problematic like others that are yet to come, being early in the film. One change in this continuous sequence though is when Harriet is thinking to herself about a question that Emma asks. When the camera is on her, the plucking stops and the flute is sustaining what may be the dominant, or fifth, scale degree. Basically, this scale degree is the root note of a chord that sounds like it needs be resolved when it sounds at the conclusion of a phrase in traditional classical music. Once Harriet responds to Emma, the previous theme of that scene resumes after the musical resolution and it is normal again.

Another standout moment to me was the scene of the big dance. The specific moment that caught my attention was when the diegetic music from the small string quartet shown playing seemed to be amplified by non-diegetic instruments. This happens when Harriet starts to dance as that moment in the scene is depicted to be a very joyful one since Emma had been wanting Harriet to be happy throughout the whole film thus far. The music that the congregation is dancing to is a very bouncy-feeling dance song or movement in a major key with a feeling of being in a compound meter. We first only hear what sounds like the amount of sound the few string musicians shown are playing. However, the instruments we hear come in are more strings playing just what the musicians would still be playing on screen. The effect is not to take away from the diegetic aspect of the music but rather, to bring added value to when the scene gets more joyful when Harriet is now enjoying herself dancing.

While not my cup of tea (there’s a joke with the setting of England there I think) entirely, I think that this film is very well-made for what is it about. It reminds me a lot of the series Pride and Prejudice (again, not my ideal watching, I see it on at home sometimes) in both the themes and the filmmaking. I would recommend this film to anyone who likes films about stories of romance flips and flops, shall we say.

One thought on “Post on “Emma”

  1. Very nice post, Alex. I agree that that scene between Harriet and Emma has an interesting mix of music and dialogue that nicely mirror each other. I also noticed that the sustaining tone of a dominant pedal point would often follow a comment by a character that needed a little bit of reflection. And yes, the dance scene has a nice moment of diegetic music becoming non-diegetic with the addition of additional strings. I’m not sure the earlier example is quite a good illustration of added value… This seems to me more of an example of clever underscoring.


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