• Topsy-Turvy Victoriana: Locating Life and Death in Corpse Bride

    Kendra Leonard (see profile)
    American Musicological Society, Film Studies, Society for Music Theory
    Musical analysis, Motion picture music, Arts, Gothic, Musicology
    Item Type:
    Music analysis, Film music, Gothic
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    In the 2005 film Corpse Bride, director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman collaborate using both musical and visual signifiers to create two very different realms that the main characters must traverse: the land of the living, and the land of the dead. The characterizations of these places appear in the reverse of what a viewer might expect. Visually, grey skies and determinedly downtrodden city streets and citizens rendered entirely in traditional Victorian mourning colors—black, grey, mauve and purple—transport the viewer to a popular, if incorrect, vision of late-nineteenth century England: one of strict conventions and repression, manifested here in everything including the foul weather. The afterlife is situated in direct contrast with this sorry state of affairs: new arrivals find themselves in a rollicking bar complete with singing and joking patrons in various states of decay. Bright and bold colors—not least of which the bright blue faces of the deceased—indicate that the afterlife is a place of merriment and fun not allowed in the more reserved world “upstairs.” In writing the music for this cabaret-style afterlife, Elfman deliberately conjures up the world of a 1930s nightclub through the use of torch songs and percussive novelty numbers. In death, existence is more casual and open than it is in life; the social structure appears to lack the classism—a major plot factor—and pettiness of the living. The use of music— and the characters who make and appreciate it—directly contributes to the creation of the two worlds, and creates an extra twist in the plot. This article will examine the musical creation of the living world and the afterlife in Corpse Bride, as well as explore the use of music in both locations as a method of creating narrative tension.
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    5 years ago


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