Remastered and Remaindered
Debussy’s Music, Nat King Cole’s Song, and David O. Selznick’s attempt at High Art on a Low Budget*
Keywords:David O. Selznick, Portrait of Jennie, Claude Debussy, Dimitri Tiomkin
With the 1948 film Portrait of Jennie producer David O. Selznick wanted to create the motion picture version of “high” art. By using the music of Claude Debussy as the basis for the film’s score, Selznick aimed for a score that would lend the movie the intrinsic quality of “great” art. Yet a closer look at decisions regarding music for Jennie shows how Selznick could not control the signifying process. Jennie thus provides us with an important site for understanding the complexity of musical signification. The use of Debussy’s music as the basis for the majority of the film’s score not only projects the image of “high” art, but also that of the banal. In opposite fashion, a “popular” song left out of the score, due to its supposed banality, through the years takes on a new kind of artful quality, achieving the timelessness that Selznick desperately sought for his movie.
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