Your Name Prof’s Name Date 998 Words Diegesis and the Artifice of Storytelling in Forest Gump and Hairspray To some degree one is always aware that one is watching a constructed story when viewing a film – there are constant reminds from the most subtle (a character who is just a little bit too clever, or dialogue that may not be how people would really talk) to the more obvious (viewing the margin of the screen, characters or objects being larger or smaller on screen than they would really be and so on)…
One of the original forms of this shift towards breaking this artifice of the screen, where audiences are aware of the work of art as existing in the form of artifice was the addition of sound to movies in the 1930s. Trying to draw the audience in to the world of the movie is not always beneficial, however. There are times when as a film maker one wants the audience to be aware of the story as a story – and non diegetic sound is a way to accomplish this. In Hairspray, the filmmakers went to extraordinary lengths to make much of the sound in the movie diegetic, trying to deflect the audiences attention from the artifice of spontaneous song and dance, while the film Forest Gump goes the opposite direction, using non-diegetic sound to draw the viewer’s attention to the artifice of the story, such as having a teller with biases and skewed perceptions. Musicals can sometimes struggle significantly with the transition into song and dance. It can sometimes simply be incredibly jarring for people to switch from normal dialogue – which we see every day in the world around us, to excellently choreographed dance accompanied by song that is so well performed that it clearly comes from a professional. Some musicals embrace this moment of awkwardness, using winks and nods at the audience to make emphasize and make light of the awkwardness of the transition; Hairspray, however, by making many of the songs diegetic, goes the opposite direction and tries to make the song and dance seem natural rather than out of place. This practice pervades the movie, starting with one of the opening scenes: the first song occurs on “the Corny Collins Show” a professional musical television event. Obviously in that case, singing and dancing makes perfect sense – as it does when the girls sing along at home. A viewer can even stretch their imagination to believing that, inspired by this show, a talented girl could begin singing about her life. This pattern continues throughout the film, first with song inserted into detention by students who are bored, then later by setting dance numbers in a record store, or again on a television set several times. Throughout this entire film, the directors made every effort to make all of the music diegetic. This process breaks down the divide between the viewer and the action occurring on screen. It makes it easier for viewers to suspend disbelief, as the ‘physics’ in the world on screen correspond to the ‘physics’ in the world around us – sometimes there is music, and that music has a known source, one can identify it, and sometimes people sing and dance do it. All of this breaks down the artifice of the story and tries to blur the lines between the world of the screen and the world around the viewer. While Hairspray makes frequent use of diegetic sound in order to break down the artifice of storytelling and creates many reasons for the song and dance that occurs, Forrest Gump goes in the complete opposite direction, using the narration – (mostly) nondiegetic sound – as a driving force of the plot and thus emphasizing the artifice of storytelling inherent to film (there are a few occurrences where the narration is diegetic in that ...
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