The unmasking scene: improvisation in context

Sholl, Robert (2018) The unmasking scene: improvisation in context. In: Phantoms of the opera: Music and performance on screen, 15-17 June 2018, Guildhall School of Music and Drama. (Unpublished)

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This paper presents an improvisation on the unmasking for Rupert Julian’s 1925 The Phantom of the Opera. The paper focuses on the ways musical improvisation can be informed by cultural and psychoanalytic theory that have remained largely separate from the fields of musical performance and improvisation studies (Marks 1997; Lewis and Piekut, 2016).

I contextualise improvisation in Leroux’s novel and place the Phantom alongside two other literary characters, Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo and Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin. I then focus on this scene which is a culmination of repression and libidinal non-fulfilment. Identity issues fuels his hollow sense of self-worth and self-loathing transferred onto Christine as an object of his desire as a woman who offers the possibility of redemption. This scene represents a cathartic dissolution of his psychotic self-imago into harsh reality. I read this moment as a sublime form of disenchantment where the libidinal promise of the magical, pseudo-scientific and, mystical are rent asunder.

I then differentiate my improvisation from contemporary theatre organ treatises which focussed primarily on mimesis of the visual action (Tootel, undated; Rapee, 1928). Instead I showed how the discourses (above) inform an “interior choreography” (Stravinsky 1947: 128) of harmonic gestures, textures and colours that create a musical and psychoanalytical depth-structure for the film making “procedural” knowledge into “declarative” knowledge (Ashley 2016: 669). Improvisation is understood here as being in a research ecology which permits the complementary enrichment of research, film, cultural, artistic and psychoanalytical contexts with improvisation. It contributes to what Cobussen identified as a purpose of improvisation studies: “to make unusual connections between music and various scholarly disciplines” and “to extend and emphasize the significance of improvisation beyond the domain of music” (Cobussen 2017: 13).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Film and television
Film and television > Screen studies
Music > Musicology
Depositing User: Robert Sholl
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2018 09:10
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:26

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