Ironic use of music in Samson and Delilah

Ironic use of music in Samson and Delilah
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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This clip from the film Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009) demonstrates the multi-dimensional and often ironic power of music in film.

The lyrics ‘Every day is a-gonna be a sunshiny day’ from Charley Pride's country music classic 'A Sunshiny Day' (1972) ironically contradict the dire but seemingly perpetual situation the film’s central character Samson (played by Rowan McNamara) finds himself in.

As Samson awakes he begins to wave his hand up and down as though holding a drumstick, keeping rhythm with the song. This drumming gesture sets up a web of rhythmic, temporal and cyclic patterns that recur throughout the film and directly relate to the film’s central themes.

After Samson rises from his bed the soundtrack cleverly shifts perspective and functions as Samson’s aurally subjective impression of the events taking place.

When Samson walks outside, he finds his brother’s band jamming on the porch. Although we can see the band members, we cannot hear their music – ‘Sunshiny Day’ still reigns supreme. Samson reaches for an electric guitar resting on an amplifier, a wall of feedback noise ensues and Samson screams ‘Yeah!’. He jumps up and strums the guitar and ‘Sunshiny Day’ miraculously attenuates to near silence.

Frustrated by the disturbance, his brother snatches the guitar from him; more feedback occurs and triggers the audibility of the band’s reggae music – a simple repetitive chord progression which occurs throughout the film and symbolises boredom and the monotony felt by characters within the remote outback environment.

These sounds do not realistically coincide with the events taking place on screen but represent Samson’s disoriented and petrol-induced mental disarray.

The shifts during this complex few minutes of sound not only establish the overall mood and tone of the film, but also speak to the story to come. The soundtrack initiates a series of ideas and issues that relate to the film's central themes  – and it does all this before the powers of image and dialogue really manifest.

You can stream Samson and Delilah in full as part of the Buwindja collection on NFSA Player.