Hearing and Feeling the Black Vampire: Queer Affects in the Film Soundtrack

Woolsey, Morgan

There is very little scholarship that considers questions of queerness in relation to film music, and the scholarship that does (Paulin, 1997; Haworth et. al., 2012; Buhler, 2014; Dubowsky, 2016) tends to approach the subject from a representational standpoint, identifying instances in which the soundtrack participates in the representation of queerness in film. The role that the soundtrack plays in fostering queer engagement with film has been left relatively underexplored. In this essay, I assert that the theories of counteridentification and disidentification as articulated by José Esteban Muñoz in his groundbreaking queer of color critique text Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Muñoz; 1999) have much to offer scholars of film music interested in exploring questions of identification and auditory and/or emotional spectatorship. I will begin by laying out Muñoz’s formulation of these theories and then briefly sketch counteridentification’s long history within film music criticism, an academic orientation that sets up Hollywood’s musical norms as the product of an oppressive “culture industry” and the disruption of those norms through modernist European musical practices as liberatory counteridentification (Adorno/Eisler; 1947). With these understandings in place, I will move to a discussion of two U.S. films from the 1970s whose soundtracks present Black audiences with audiovisual experiences that invite counteridentification and disidentification respectively: Blacula (William Crain; 1972) and Ganja and Hess (Bill Gunn; 1973).


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March 18, 2021