University of Hertfordshire

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Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherAmazon Prime Video
Media of outputFilm
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2021


'Happy Families' is a drama dealing with sexuality and the navigation of complex relationships. It was directed by South African-British director Arno Crous, written by Claude Baskind and stars Charles Reston, Ciaran Lonsdale and Orla Jackson. The music commission involved a competitive process of over 30 composers.

In the Chapter 'Soundtrack Theory and Queer Theory,' from the 'Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies,' (Buhler 2014), Buhler quotes Glyn Davis, stating that 'queer disruptions of normal modes of viewing "frequently operate via the aural channel, or, more accurately, bring the aural and the visual streams into a dissonant – and dissident – relationship to each other." Earlier, Buhler asserts that 'queer theory often employs an interpretive strategy that reads agains the grain. In the case of queer theory this strategy seeks out figures of camp...'

The focus of the soundtrack in 'Happy Families' was entirely and deliberately oppositional to this typical approach. In 'Happy Families,' the story is Jason's story. Jason is gay, but his identity works against stereotypical norms. He is not camp, nor is he empathic. He is sullen, straight-acting and sneaky. He doesn't like to show it, but he is also fragile and sensitive.

At the heart of the film is a three-minute song that rather than seeking 'out figures of camp,' through a 'dissonant – and dissident' (ibid.) relationship of the aural and visual streams,' works in close sync with the visual cues. The song is able to amplify Jason's inner struggles far more than he would reveal in person by utilising a personal diegetic approach – his motivations and thoughts are voiced in the lyric of the song. And there is harmony not dissonance between his visual on-screen mischief and the personal diegetic process working through the song.

The research process also interrogates the literature on synaesthesia, making novel applications in the music to convey sensory modalities such as touch and sight as well as sound and described as 'a novel approach,' by Synaesthesia specialist Prof. James Ward.

'Happy Families' is screened on Amazon Prime Movies.

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