Suppressed Soundtracks: Tracking Camp Trajectory in American Queer Cinema’s Music, from Kubrick to Tarantino

“For now, it was lovely music that came to my aid.

There was a window open with the stereo on, and I viddied right at once what to do.”

~ Alex DeLarge, A Clockwork Orange

In Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian, totalitarian 1971 picture A Clockwork Orange, a musical motif is enough to incite violence – one movement of Beethoven’s “Symphony No.9 in D Major” enough to trigger a psychological episode. Kubrick was a master conductor – orchestrating Strauss cosmologically in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Shostakovich scopophillically in Eyes Wide Shut. Yet, the auteur rarely procured popular music for his movies – rarer still expressed queer, “camp” sentiments[1]. Orange stands separate from Kubrick’s oeuvre – a fluorescent peak in a valley of pastel sci-fi blues, noir monochromes, Victorian greens – and its camp usage of Gene Kelly’s pop (and cinematic) hit “Singin’ in the Rain” serves as an excellent entryway into the discussion of camp cinema’s musical evocations altogether. In this piece, I will examine camp theory via a chronological trajectory of films with queer representation – specifically citing the films’ non-diegetic soundtracks as a form of what Jack Babuscio calls “camp aesthetic.” But before delving into camp cinema’s acoustic complexities, it’s first suitable to outline camp criteria as a whole.

Susan Sontag, in her seminal 1964 essay “Notes on Camp”, asserts camp’s growing prevalence in mainstream 1960s art culture while attempting to outline foundational criteria for its evaluation and understanding. She details early camp’s gender-bending, witty aestheticism, and its self-conscious, stylistic performativity and construction through her bullet-point treatise – yet, Sontag’s “camp”, despite its acknowledgement of these characteristics, still “dampen[s] camp’s queer origins and political ramifications” (Benshoff and Griffin, 120). This neglectful wrong is, perhaps, righted in writings by Jack Babuscio and Moe Meyer – two late 20th century theorists who not only specify and refine Sontag’s piece, but also re-appropriate it or, perhaps, reveal the queer subtext within her theory itself. Sontag’s own definitions – camp’s lamps are always “lamps”, its lexicon always in “quotations” – and frameworks – camp’s “double-sense in which somethings can be taken”– while intrinsic and foundational, are less useful for our evaluation of camp texts than Babuscio’s more polished principles (Sontag, 3-5).

Gay film critic Jack Babuscio penned “Camp and the Gay Sensibility” in 1977, laying out four main facets of camp: irony, humor, theatricality, and aestheticism. Almost all of his definitions are useful in evaluating film camp from early Hollywood to the present-day. Broadly, Babuscio explored the way in which camp relied upon queer social alienation – an alienation that produced an affinity for and attunement with his four facets of camp. Camp, for Babuscio, arose from queer perception of the world’s hostility towards ‘deviance’ and responded to a necessary navigation and management of that perception. Thus, Babuscio’s conception of camp “irony” is predicated upon a similarly ‘queer’ perception: the “highly incongruous contrast between an individual or thing and its context or association” (Babuscio, 2). He details a series of common camp binaries and tensions: “[the most common] masculine/feminine, youth/old age, sacred/profane, high/low class” (Ibid).[2] These tensions take up and toy with the idea of “gayness as a moral deviation…morally wrong,” and are made manifest through camp’s theatricality and aestheticism and alluded to through its humor.

For Babuscio, camp’s theatricality stems (like its irony) from socially ingrained and expressed practices – for queers, passing straight is inherently performative, the “art of passing is an acting art”; to be queer is to always “be on stage” (Babuscio, 5). Thus, over-acting – that is, acting to a degree that makes the viewer aware of the acting – itself contains camp sentiment: in particular, sentiment geared towards the realization that all life is a stage, particularly if one is queer. It’s camp’s navigation of this realization – and the realization of the social structures that cause performance – that result in what Babuscio calls its main “strategy”: humor. Humor, for camp, is “a means of dealing with a hostile environment,” it allows us to “witness ‘serious’ issues with temporary detachment…[without] discard[ing] the seriousness of a thing or individual” (Babuscio, 6). But how exactly does camp present its humor, theatricality, and irony?

The main function of Babuscio’s camp is its “aestheticism”; camp characteristics, in order to be effective, “…must be shaped…through arrangement, timing, and tone” (Babuscio, 3). Camp’s aestheticism is, essentially, the form through which camp’s humor and irony is exercised and its solemnity is exorcised. Babuscio expounds: “the aesthetic element in camp further implies a movement away from contemporary concerns into…subjective fantasies…surfaces, textures, imagery as stylistic devices – fascinating in themselves” (Ibid). Babuscio’s camp reading renders the work of “pure cinema” artists – directors who utilize every facet of film aesthetic – as particularly fertile ground into which we might read camp. This panoply of auteurs – George Cukor, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino –  utilize not only the image track, but the soundtrack artistically and, as I’ll demonstrate, have used film sound in a way that reflects Babuscio’s camp aestheticism. Film sound is one of cinema’s primary theoretical elements, and it will be useful to first established a theoretical framework before delving into score//soundtrack campiness.

A foundational French theorist in cinema sound, Michel Chion published The Voice in Cinema in 1984, in which he discusses the nuances of film sound: implications of diegetic, and non-diegetic soundtrack, dialogue and voiceover. Among his myriad conclusions: a connection between the non-diegetic soundtrack and the spectator. Chion defines what he calls “acousmatic” sound as sound – vocal or musical – “heard without its cause or source being seen,” off-screen, non-diegetic, non-visualized sound (Chion, 265). Early film, he argues, follows an archetype set forth by silent cinema: sound, that is to say the score or the dialogue, is used only to advance or support the narrative. Silent pictures used instrumentation in place of character voices, expressions; early talkies employ score to emphasize narrative significance and tone. Yet, with sound cinema came the distinction between diegetic and non-diegetic sound, with different implications for both artist and spectator alike. Chion argues that the “complete acousmêtre,” or person//being in possession of a non-visualized, acousmatic voice also possesses, in the eyes of the spectator, a certain omniscience, mastery, and knowledge of the film’s suppressed details. This acousmêtre, in Classical Hollywood, can be represented by either overt, disembodied voiceover, the musical score, or perhaps a “man behind the curtain” (as The Wizard of Oz’s Wizard, Psycho’s Mother, The Magnificent Ambersons’ Welles). This is important to remember: the disembodied voice theoretically not only ‘knows’ nuances of the text, but also is the medium through which clarity and detail is communicated to the audience. This in-between region – simultaneously ‘in’ the film but also ‘closer’ to the spectator – is often employed as a means for directors (particularly auteurs) – to convey camp sentiments to observant, aware viewers.

Babuscio’s criteria for “camp” moments or “camp” films deepen Sontag’s initial theory in a way that actually allows us to turn back towards Classical Hollywood and examine texts with a clearer queer lens; Choin’s “acousmêtre,” and framing of the non-diegetic space as communicative to the spectator provides framework for a sonic screen scrutiny. To start: George Cukor’s 1933 film, Sylvia Scarlett, exhibits Babuscio’s laid-out criteria for ‘camp’ moments or ‘camp films qualities’ more overtly than just about every Hollywood picture in the era. Cukor referred to the film as his and Katherine Hepburn’s “love-child”, while Hepburn herself sentimentally called it their “flopperoo” – two monikers that signify the passion and simultaneously “campy” final product.

Scarlett centers on Hepburn’s performance as a trouser-donning cross-dresser – to fool the authorities, she spends the film pretending to be a young boy. Thus, the film’s very narrative is embedded with camp ideas of performativity and theatricality – a sensibility accentuated by Hepburn and Cary Grant’s over-accentuated mannerisms, Grant’s ‘orrible Cockney accent, and the film’s whiplash pacing. Sylvia Scarlett lacks a consistent soundtrack – but the elliptical, scattered narrative lends itself to sharp changes of pace and digressions, including a duo of campy musical numbers, both of which feature prominent scoring, both of which feature hilariously bad “performances” from the ensemble. These moments, in which the film’s cast of characters “perform” lend a certain self-reflexivity to the film – which thematically is already tackling the performative nature of gender identity. Cukor’s delivery of these scenes is particularly notable – he plays up the campiness in both. The first, a big group-sing after the coterie decides to become a travelling theater troupe. They cheer, leap, laugh and break into song, and as Cary Grant’s Jimmy Monkley breaks out an Irish jig, he’s joined by an instrumental score that just about signals exuberance and camp to the audience. Later, when the troupe actually takes the stage, their outfits, singing, and overall performances are staged as intentionally bad – to the point where they’re heckled into breaking show by a Bohemian artist in the crowd. Grant’s bashing of keys on the piano, and the whole lots slightly out-of-tune singing are humorous moments that remind us, the viewers, of the nature of performance itself – in a film that constantly derives humor from campy over-acting and wishy-washy performative gender, these overtly theatrical moments are the campiest.

Released in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is popularly considered as the ‘end’ of Hay’s Code-bound Classical Hollywood Cinema, and it pushes violent, sexual, and sonic boundaries. When discussing film scores, sounds, and awareness of spectatorship, there are few directors more notable than Hitchcock. His seminal slasher movie, Psycho, is scored by sonic screen savant Bernard Hermann; Hitchcock deploys Hermann’s score, and a non-diegetic voiceover carefully and deliberately throughout. The latter pairs perfectly with Chion’s ‘acousmatic” theory, as Norman Bates’ mother (revealed to be deceased at the film’s end) perfectly embodies Chion’s ‘disembodied’ acousmêtre ­– her voice is shrill, unnerving, and always inhabits the non-diegetic space. Hitchcock leaves beats in the film’s dialogue and action to allow the audience time to laugh, and himself described Psycho as “meant to be a black comedy” –  a term that, in its nature, evokes a certain “camp” aesthetic: tackling serious, dark topics with a humorous tint. This acknowledgment allows us to read humor into scenes that we might otherwise not ­– particularly two moments related to Mother’s ‘acousmatic’ voice. The first: the unsettling discovery that Mother is actually dead, and the resultant spectator confusion over just whose voice it is we’ve been hearing the whole time. Hitchcock’s delivery of this moment is notable: as Mother’s dead body spins around, Lila Crane knocks a hanging lightbulb before Hermann’s score ramps up to its iconic screech as Norman Bates runs into the frame, dressed in his mother’s garb, even donning a wig, screaming: “I’m Norma Bates!” After Anthony Perkins’ understated, even empathetic performance, the over-the-top physicality and facial expressions and bizarre scream he exhibits upon entering the basement are so out-of-place and shocking one can’t help but laugh. Hitchcock seems aware of the jarring effect of this moment, accompanying Norman’s “queered” appearance not only with Hermann’s screeching strings, but also a guttural scream from Norman himself, and his just discernable (and all-too-overt) line “I’m Norma Bates”, before cutting directly to an almost parodic, didactic scene in which a psychiatrist essentially explains the twist and conclusion to the audience. It’s a peculiar turn of events, but it’s the films climatic moment – the moment where the longed-for embodiment of the bodiless ‘acousmêtre,’ the Mother, is realized. Instead of the Mother, however, we get Norman, and Hitchcock pulls out all the stops to a ‘camp’ effect – the swinging lightbulb, searing score, scream and zoom-in to Norman’s knife are so overwhelming it almost distances us from the actual shock – the shower scene’s quick cutting (initially conceived by Hitchcock as a score-less sequence) is far more evocative and horrifying; the film’s conclusion unnerves but distances us from the shock through Hitchcock’s staging, filming, sound and score to the point where, when we do see the acousmatic voice finally given a body, it’s so extraneously delivered that it elicits ‘camp’ laughter. Watching the film with a young audience last year, viewers shock at the shower sequence manifested itself in screams; whereas their shock at the twist came out as stunned laughter. Hitchcock, perhaps aware of the didactic psychiatrist scene that follows (as well as the potentially already ‘shocked’ enough audience) chooses a slightly more conventional approach to the film’s conclusion, but one that nonetheless deploys image, score, and dialogue to incite the exact audience reaction he desired.

Stanley Kubrick, similarly to Hitchcock, pushed cinema’s content boundaries with A Clockwork Orange. Released in 1971, Clockwork turns on camp gears both score-based (like Classical Hollywood’s) and popular music-based (like New, and Contemporary Hollywood’s). Thus, it serves as a theoretical bridge between what I suggest is ‘old-school’ camp scores (Sylvia Scarlett’s theatrical melodies; Psycho’s score and voiceover) and ‘new-school’ lyrical camp. Firstly, one of the film’s most controversial scenes sees Alex DeLarge, the film’s protagonist, and his “Droogs” break into a domicile and rape a woman while Alex dances and gives an acapella rendition of Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain”. Described, the scene sounds unwatchable, crass, and inflammatory yet, upon viewing, it is strikingly distant – arguably overtly camp. It’s all down to Kubrick’s presentation – a perfect encapsulation of Babuscio’s “camp aesthetic.” Alex and his Droogs, throughout the film, wear garb that aesthetically harkens back to British “dandy” get-up – outfits and make-up that exhibit a queer femininity: well-dressed and Wildian. They also demonstrate the aggressive sexuality implied by the “dandy” moniker and wear eyeliner that’s half-femme, half-masculine. When Malcolm McDowell breaks out into Gene Kelly’s iconic musical refrain, the theater spectator, seeing Alex’s attire, make-up, and demeanor, can’t help but recall the association between homosexuality and Hollywood musicals – and suddenly the scene’s content clashes harshly with its light-hearted, jovial presentation. Within the film’s context, Alex’s sexual “deviance” and eventual “sterilization” read as allegorical to the plight of homosexual’s in Britain’s repressive law enforcement and legal system ­– the “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence, and Kubrick’s camp presentation, allow us the “psychological distance” that Babuscio refers to in his camp essay, and actually present Alex’s sexual deviance as strangely empathetic – despite the explicitly disturbing content in the immediate scene. It’s this psychological distance that allows us to read allegory into the film’s explicit moments – a distance common to Kubrick’s filmic worlds. Clockwork’s credits confirm this reading: Kubrick, having purchased the rights to Kelly’s song, plays the original track over the bright reds and blues of his credits – the song moves from Alex’s diegetic space to the non-diegetic, and communicates to the spectator that the rape scene was, in fact, alluding to something greater, and carried camp connotations meant for our consumption.

While Clockwork deploys popular music within the filmic space, it only does so via Alex’s acapella performance; it wasn’t until two years later that songs themselves were incorporated into the diegetic space. George Lucas’s 1973 film, American Graffiti, uses pop music to set a tone, an ambience – his film drips with 1950s nostalgia, and Lucas deploys Buddy Holly, Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison as diegetic cyphers. The introduction of Dolby Surround Sound allowed filmmakers to explore this non-diegetic ‘in-between’ region between the film and the spectator by layering and placing sounds, bringing sounds “…into play with one another” (Babuscio, 6). In Classical Hollywood, the “score” itself, or voiceover, that inhabited this space; in New Hollywood, filmmakers started to employ popular music. Lucas, however, only uses ‘50s pop diegetically as a narrative supplement – playing from diner transistors and car radios – his music serves as narrative supplement and ambience similar to Old Hollywood’s scores.[3] Scorsese would one-up Lucas later that year, turning songs into subliminal commentary on the on-screen action. His 1973 picture Mean Streets utilizes everything from opera to 60s and 70s rock; the most notable moment a slow-mo intro to Robert DeNiro’s Johnny Boy accompanied by a non-diegetic Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – Johnny has a violent, rock n’ rollers masculinity “born in a cross-fire hurricane” (Jagger and Richards, 1). Throughout Mean Streets, Scorsese uses non-diegetic lyrical pop to do more than just underscore the action – his songs become narrations and set a standard for using the ‘spectoral’ space to communicate more than just mood to the spectator.

Babuscio, in “Camp and the Gay Sensibility”, argues adamantly that camp was not apolitical – in its humorous aesthetic it also communicates to the attentive spectator a critique of “heterosexual privilege and presumption” – a claim that lays the groundwork for Mark Meyer’s “Reclaiming the Discourse of Camp.” Meyer’s text is a useful one: from the 70s to the present, Hollywood began displaying overt queer representation through what Meyer calls “heterocentrist texts and reception paradigms,” using heterosexual directors within Hollywood’s hegemonic, heterocentric structure. Using of AIDS as backdrop, Meyer essentially argues that even mainstream appropriations of camp (‘pop camp’) contain a “powerful queer charge… queerness nevertheless endures, abides, and ultimately prevails” (Meyer, 4). This charge, however, is usually subjugated and backgrounded – often, we’ll see, via the film’s soundtrack.


In 1993, Jonathan Demme directed what is, perhaps, a perfect representation of Hollywood’s queer representative tendencies: the sterilized, streamlined, and suppressed queerness of Philadelphia. Demme’s film tackles the AIDS crisis – a dirty, disturbing, and powerfully desolate moment in the city’s history. Yet, its treatment is relatively sterile: pretty actors, sound stages and glossy colors rather than gritty, gruesome, realism. There are three moments with real emotional weight; all relate to Demme’s usage of soundtrack and the non-diegetic space. The first is the film’s opening sequence: a montage of the City of Brotherly Love set to Bruce Springsteen’s penned-for-the-picture song “Streets of Philadelphia.” With melancholic synths, and a heart-beat drum-beat, Springsteen’s elegy has a tangible poetic prowess, pairing powerfully with Demme’s street-side montage of Philadelphia which spans everything from “bruised and battered” homeless, to smiling, brotherly friends whose “voices”, as Springsteen’s AIDS-stricken “Streets” character suggests, are “vanished and gone” (Springsteen, 7). The montage, aided by its non-diegetic soundtrack, is able to simultaneously convey the loneliness and community created by the AIDS epidemic – something the rest of the film struggles to do. Two other moments of queer empathy stick out amidst a strangely realism-devoid narrative. Neil Young’s song “Philadelphia”, which concludes the film, packs a similar punch to Springsteen’s, and bookends Demme’s film with heartrending, empathetic ballads. Sandwiched between the two, Demme deploys non-diegetic sound a third time: foregrounding the soundtrack again during Tom Hanks’ ‘performance’ of “La Momma Morta”, an aria from Act Three of Umberto Giordano’s opera Andrea Chénier. As Hanks becomes more and more engrossed in the track, the song moves from the filmic space to the soundtrack. This move, paired with the expressionist acting and sensual red lighting elicits a significant degree of sympathy and attention from the viewer. Yet, much like Clockwork’s almost over-wrought and over-the-top “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence, these elements are so overt they call attention to themselves. Hanks, too, describes the very song he’s singing, contextualizing his performance by allegorizing his own plight with that of aria’s dying character. Given the trope of homosexual affinity for the opera (a similar one reflected in Orange’s “Singin’ in the Rain), there is an overt theatricality and awareness in the sequence that lends itself to a camp reading. It’s doubtless that the song resonated with queer spectators – it’s raw emotion is such that it’s hard not to – yet, this resonance is paired with an awareness of how intentional and simulated the scene is. Demme, clearly aware of the diegetic soundtrack’s effect on the spectator, uses it as a tool – but it’s a double-edged one that also accentuates and buttresses the scene’s camp undertones.

A year after Philadelphia’s commercial and critical success, the mainstream would co-opt camp sensibility again. Quentin Tarantino is a director with an astute awareness of camp aesthetics, as well as an eye for and propensity to include intentional representation in his films. In his 1994 masterpiece, Pulp Fiction, he exercises every element in his artistic wheelhouse – black-and-whites, red-neon hues, post-modern pastiche, and – as always ­– an allusive, eclectic, pop-rooted soundtrack. He follows his Reservoir Dogs campy-torture scene (set to Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You) by upping the camp in a Pulp Fiction sequence where Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) and Marsellus Wallace find themselves in a hillbilly BDSM sex dungeon, and Marsellus is raped by Maynard. The scene marks a massive tonal switch (Pulp is chock-full of ‘em) in the film that contributes to its campiness.[4] As Maynard takes Marsellus to the back room, Tarantino slows the frame-rate, as the horns and drumline of the Revel’s 1961 surf-song “Comanche” rips into the soundtrack. The instrumental track builds up to climax with vibrato horns and a quickened swing cymbal beat. When the instrumental climax comes, Tarantino matches it by returning to normal frame rate – a sort of visual and sonic orgasm. Leaving nothing to ambiguity, Tarantino discussed his original intent to use The Knack’s 1979 New Wave hit “My Sharona” in the sequence: “[the song] has a really good sodomy beat to it. I thought, oh God, this is just too funny not to use.” He instead opts for the surf-styling of the Revels, and expresses the camp humor via visual framing, pacing, and the uproarious non-diegetic soundtrack. These flourishes, paired with the laughable dialogue and Maynard’s police-man uniform (a direct pull from the fascistic, domineering garb of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising, another camp film with pop-music overtones) present a potentially disturbing sequence at a humorous, campy distance.

Perhaps the culmination and encapsulation of Hollywood’s queer intentionality, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain powerfully appropriates the Western genre’s iconography and tropes in service of a gay narrative – yet, typical of Hollywood, is crafted solely by heterosexuals, relegating queer creative forces to the background. On the surface, the film has little-to-no camp associations; it’s a realistic, ambitious tragedy of two men whose love is forbidden and vilified by the society around them. Yet, the suppression of queer artists in the creative process, paired with the protagonists’ own constant suppressed, “passing” performances allows for some camp wiggle-room – particularly in regards to the soundtrack and scenes in which the central gay characters interact with it, ‘performing’ aspects of it. Among Brokeback’s co-opted cowboy imagery is the saloon – the stereotypical masculine proving ground of the Old West – a place for bar-fights and stare-downs, high-noon showdowns. In Brokeback, these saloons are modernized – roadside bars with ritualistic square dancing and country music. Scenes that assume the mantle of performative masculinity: much is made in the film about the ritual of dancing with your (heterosexual) partner for all to watch and clap along – rituals that take on a camp reading when one considers our protagonists are a) gay and b) actively aware that everyone in the bars knows they’re gay. It’s the camp double-consciousness made manifest, thus, when Heath Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar brings a woman out onto the dance floor, there is a camp-flair to the scene. When Linda Ronstadt’s cover of Buddy Holly’s American staple “It’s So Easy” (to fall in love) enters the soundtrack, the tongue-in-cheek implications become more pronounced. The other soundtracks: Steve Earle, Mary McBride, Emmylou Harris – intimate American staples about love lost delivered with a country-western twang. Thus, we have, within the filmic space a palette of country songs that either kid or accentuate Brokeback’s queer tragedy, but always through a “westernized”, heterosexual framework. Actual gay music, and popular songs that empathetically access the suppressed psyches of the main duos are subjugated to the credits scene: Willy Nelson’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “He was a Friend of Mine” sympathizes with Jack Twist’s death from Del Mar’s perspective, and Rufus Wainwright’s “The Maker Makes,” written specifically for the film, finally represents the suppressed queerness of the Hollywoodized film – it’s penned by a gay man and, presented via the non-diegetic credits sequence, seems almost to acknowledged the heterocentric presentation of the text – while simultaneously bolstering its emotional weight. Here, we might recall Meyer’s arguments about heterosexual appropriations of camp as always eventually giving way to the queer subtext.

Lastly, but not leastly, Lisa Chodelenko’s The Kids Are All Right seems, in its usage of soundtrack, to further our reading of its use as a camp tool. Much like Scorsese used “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Chodelenko introduces and constantly frames Mark Ruffalo’s character, Paul Hatfield, with music that hold queer connotations – a subliminal, humorously camp way to access his role as a masculine man with a ‘gay sensibility’. Joni Mitchell’s Blue ­­– an album is among Hatfield’s favorite LPs (he knows every lyric to Mitchell’s “All I Want”), and he rides in on his Harley to David Bowie, a queer icon. Again, the non-diegetic space is a communicative one – deployed here to make us somewhat suspect as to why Paul possesses such an affinity for stereotypically feminine and queer arts. In a sense, popular music in mainstream Hollywood often takes the place of scores in Classical Hollywood – but its usage at the hands of auteurs, like pure instrumental tracks, is varied, often experimental, and often used to convey camp connotations.

Before A Clockwork Orange hits the spectator with neon reds and blues accompanied by Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” Stanley Kubrick does one final artistic flourish with the non-diegetic space, toying with the power of Chion’s acousmêtre. Alex DeLarge, who has narrated the film with a disembodied, omniscient voice, is shown in close-up, grinning ear-to-ear, accompanied by the campy, blaring score of his self-professed favorite classical piece, Beethoven’s 9th symphony. As the music rises, Alex looks to the sky – and we’re brought from the close-up into his psyche: images of him fornicating in Victorian aesthetic. His final utterance: “I was cured alright”, clashes with Beethoven’s operatic cymbals, and leaves the viewer unnerved, thoughtful, and smiling – much like the final acousmetric voiceover close-up Hitchcock in Psycho’s final moments. Both are perfect encapsulations of the way in which the non-diegetic space and soundtrack are used to convey camp sensibilities to the audience, while simultaneously underscoring the narrative text. The campy humor deployed in both films disarms the disturbing content, elicits laughter and awareness from the spectator, and leaves them ruminating upon the implications of the films closing moments, closing voiceovers, closing notes. What a glorious feeling, indeed.


Works Cited


Babuscio, Jack. “Camp and the Gay Sensibility,” in Queer cinema, the Film Reader. Benshoff Harry M. and Sean Griffin. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Meyer, Moe. “Reclaiming the Discourse of Camp,” in Queer cinema, the Film Reader. Benshoff Harry M. and Sean Griffin. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print. 

Chion, Michel. “The Voice in Cinema” in Marshall Cohen, Film Theory. 2008. Print.

A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Kubrick, Stanley. Polaris Productions; Hawk Films, 1971.

Sylvia Scarlet. Dir. Cukor, George. RKO Radio Pictures, 1935.

Psycho. Dir. Hitchcock, Alfred. Shamley Productions, 1960.

Mean Streets. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Warner Bros., 1973.

Philadelphia. Dir. Demme, Jonathan. TriStar Pictures, 1993.

Pulp Fiction. Dir. Tarantino, Quentin. Miramax Films, 1994.

Brokeback Mountain. Dir. Lee, Ang. Focus Features, 2005.

Sontag, Susan. Notes on Camp. 1964.

The Kids Are All Right. Dir. Cholodenko, Lisa. Focus Features, 2010.

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Decca Records, 1968.

[1] Though there is a somewhat queer “through-line” in his work, it’s not always a “campy” one.

[2] I’d venture to add gay//straight, or perhaps even romantic//aromantic – and wonder why B. himself didn’t include them.

[3] One could argue Mike Nichol’s began this trend with his 1967 film, The Graduate, by getting Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel to score and soundtrack the film – but his use of music serves a similar narrative function rather than expressive one: a definitive ‘60s soundtrack like Graffiti’s ‘50s

[4] “Part of the fun of Pulp,” Tarantino has said, “is that if you’re hip to movies, you’re watching the boxing movie Body and Soul and then suddenly the characters turn a corner and they’re in the middle of Deliverance. And you’re like, ‘What? How did I get into Deliverance? I was in Body and Soul, what’s going on here?’”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s