Spectacle at the Disco: Boogie Nights, Soundtrack, and the New American Musical

Kelly Ritter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In our postmodern visual culture, the idea of spectacle conjures images of excess. In defining spectatorship, we emphasize the visual, drawing physical eyewitnesses toward the spectacular moment itself and into the reification of that moment on the film screen. However, recent Hollywood cinema has challenged the notion that all spectacle must take place within the realm of the visual, as many films strive to reach spectators aurally, via their soundtracks. In particular, popular song has been used in many commercially successful films to re-create each spectator's relationship with his or her past. Films with best-selling pop soundtracks, such as The Wedding Singer and Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, among others, have financially exploited the spectator's attention to familiar song within comedic narratives, prompting viewers to purchase collections of songs they may already own, motivated by nostalgia and pleasant rearrangements of these songs within light, entertaining narratives. In other cases, “retro” films such as 54 and The Last Days of Disco have attempted to capitalize on the popularity of musical trends, such as disco, to revisit what the “scene” meant to its patrons, as well as what disco might mean commercially to new generations. But rarely do the songs in this type of film serve as anything but collective backdrop or the means by which a filmmaker might establish setting, particularly in terms of a decade. They merely reconfigure radio programming, reorder Top 40 hits for a theatrical space.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-175
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Popular Film and Television
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


  • Motion pictures -- Sound effects
  • Boogie Nights (Film)


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