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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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Once More into the Breach

Once More into the Breach

Interrogating Ben Winters’s Nondiegetic Fallacy

(p.260) Chapter 14 Once More into the Breach
Voicing the Cinema
Jeff Smith
University of Illinois Press

This essay contributes to ongoing scholarly debate about the concepts of diegetic and nondiegetic music renewed by Robynn Stillwell’s proposal of a “fantastical gap.” More specifically, the author interrogates Ben Winters’ notion of a “nondiegetic fallacy” wherein Winters asserts that the viewer’s comprehension of manifestly unrealistic elements in cinema apply equally to consideration of the soundtrack. Rather than assume a priori that music belongs to a register external to the diegesis, we should consider the possibility that music has an ontological existence in each film’s peculiar universe irrespective of whether the characters within that world can hear it. Although the “nondiegetic fallacy” seems defensible from an ontological perspective, the author contends that Winters neglects the “principle of minimal departure,” an axiom used to explain why viewers assume certain continuities between their real-world experience and the fictional worlds they encounter. Without this heuristic, viewers would be unable to comprehend any cinematic fiction insofar as they’d have to track a potentially limitless set of questions about the way each unique filmic universe operates. This chapter also argues that Winters’s nondiegetic fallacy ignores music’s role as part of an integrated soundtrack. As shown in an analysis of The Fallen Sparrow, the premises of the nondiegetic fallacy apply equally to offscreen or subjective sound. By examining the vococentric nature of the soundtrack and its attendant principles of maximal sonic clarity, the author defends the utility of the diegetic/nondiegetic distinction by showing its necessity to spectators’ comprehension of film characters’ actions and motivations.

Keywords:   nondiegetic music, diegetic music, film music, narratology, The Fallen Sparrow

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