Build You Up or Tear You Down, Music is Always Around

King Vidor’s Hallelujah! tackles the themes of black religion and black sexuality through the thick lens of music. The main character, Zeke, experiences a ‘Prodigal Son’ like story, leaving his family behind to pursue his lust for Chick, then returning to open arms after she has an affair then dies from falling out of the buggy. Through every moment Zeke develops and changes, music backs him to show his transformations. Howard’s article, “Hallelujah!: Transformation in Film” divulges the secrets of how Vidor expressed Zeke’s reshaping throughout the film.

(left to right) Hot Shot, Chick, and Zeke from the film Hallelujah! (1929)

One of the most interesting details Howard expresses is that when Zeke undergoes a change, so does his speech. As she points out, when the protagonist experiences an awakening moment, whether it be in the name of religion or lust, Zeke’s “voice becomes gradually affected, moving from the realm of everyday talking to that of recitation, chanting, song-chanting, and finally to song itself” (444). This particular use of song struck me because it shows that music doesn’t necessarily push him only toward Christianity. Most pieces would use song to show the character getting closer to God, while this film shows that music isn’t exclusive to religion.

2 thoughts on “Build You Up or Tear You Down, Music is Always Around

  1. Good observation Alyssa, I also noticed that throughout the film while religion is at the forefront, the music is independent of one persuasion and it arises in many different settings. This range of musical theme reflects for me at least, the inner struggle within Zeke.

  2. Howard’s article does a great job of illustrating how the music flows with the characters. I did not think about the Prodigal Son, but the story closely relates to the film. Did you notice Zeke preaching on the mule, a symbolism for Jesus perhaps? I thought that part was interesting.

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