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Voicing the CinemaFilm Music and the Integrated Soundtrack$
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James Buhler and Hannah Lewis

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780252043000

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252043000.001.0001

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Breaking into Soundtrack in 1980s Teen Films

Breaking into Soundtrack in 1980s Teen Films

(p.108) Chapter 6 Breaking into Soundtrack in 1980s Teen Films
Voicing the Cinema
Cari McDonnell
University of Illinois Press

From Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear in Risky Business (1983) to John Cusack blasting a love song on his boombox below his girlfriend’s bedroom window in Say Anything . . . (1989), characters “breaking into soundtrack” are some of the most iconic moments in teen films of the 1980s. This essay examines these sequences as a discrete mode of musical performance with aesthetic conventions and narrative functions that are largely consistent throughout the decade. The author argues that teen characters tend to break into soundtrack at strategic moments in the narrative in order to try out potential identities and to express strong, often subversive feelings without negative consequences. These performances allow teens to test the waters without committing to a course of action. That the music is all commercially available popular music only highlights the fact that these are appropriated, rather than spontaneous, songs that can be tried on like a new outfit. Thus, in these films, teens break into soundtrack in order to try out different voices as they search to find their own.

Keywords:   musical performance, teen films, popular music, 1980s, Pretty in Pink, Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

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