In Jim Jarmusch's Int. Trailer. Night (2002) a young American actress, alone in her trailer for a ten-minute break, lights up a cigarette and puts on a CD of the Goldberg Variations. In this short, almost plotless experimental film Bach sounds outside the frameworks that typically motivate the diegetic presence of so-called ‘classical music’ in cinema, detached from the places and signifiers of high art and from high-level meanings and pointed occurrences. This unusual representation of listening opens up two complementary lines of enquiry: first, into the way in which Jarmusch draws on Bach to invent a reality that is strange and irreducible, marked by unexpected cultural affiliations and by an elusive affective realm; second, into the way in which, by thus channelling Bach into his poetics of the everyday, the director reinvents the music's own identity, putting forward a de-essentialized image of its cultural placement and aesthetic status.
Carlo Cenciarelli has recently completed his PhD at King's College London, where he wrote a dissertation on the cinematic appropriation of J. S. Bach's music. Part of this research is also forthcoming in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association. His wider interests revolve around the range of ways in which Western art music was rethought and reused in the twentieth century, whether through compositional revision, criticism, borrowing, or multimedia. He is currently working on a project on opera and digital culture funded by the Istituto di Studi Verdiani in Parma.
My thanks go to Roger Parker for his generosity with time and suggestions, and to Daniel Chua, John Butt, Julie Brown, Jane Brandon, and the reviewers of twentieth-century music for their useful comments. In addition I would like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding my PhD dissertation on the cinematic appropriation of Bach (Ref. 2006/126695/King's College London), of which this article forms a part.