This article explores the connections between musical and narrative crookedness in The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012). I propose a definition of narrative tactus to account for the increasingly disruptive impact of the film’s nonlinear structure and consider how the soundtrack both accentuates and counteracts the resulting sense of disjunction.

Trigger warning: This article discusses the suicide of one of the film’s protagonists.

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1. The Broken Circle Breakdown, directed by Felix van Groeningen (2012; New York: Cinedigm Entertainment, 2014), DVD.
2. Johan Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels, The Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-ups of Alabama (Antwerp: Bebuquin, 2012).
3. Chris Willman, “How Belgium Produced the Century’s Second Great Bluegrass Movie,” The Wrap, November 26, 2013, updated July 2014, https://www.thewrap.com/belgium-produced-centurys-second-great-bluegrass-movie-2/.
4. Also noteworthy, The Broken Circle Breakdown Bluegrass Band performed extensively following the film’s premier (2012-2015) and released a live album that features songs from the soundtrack as well as several that do not appear in the film. The Broken Circle Breakdown Bluegrass Band, Unbroken! Live in Concert, Universal Music Belgium, 2014, Apple Music. In 2017, the band came together once again and recorded a music video to raise funds for Natuurpunt, a Flemish nature conservation NGO. Their cover of Louis Neefs’s “Laat ons een bloem” can be viewed at “The Broken Circle Breakdown Bluegrass Band - Laat ons een bloem,” October 26, 2017, YouTube video, 3:27, https://youtu.be/ZtVVIgTY4JI.
5. Throughout this article, I will use the name Elise when discussing acts 1 and 2, Alabama following her name change in act 3, and Elise/Alabama for references covering both timeframes.
6. Leunen has edited all six of Van Groeningen’s feature films to date.
7. The Broken Circle Breakdown, Pressbook, Berlinale 63: Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin (2013), 5, available on The Match Factory, https://www.the-match-factory.com/catalogue/films/the-broken-circle-breakdown.html.
8. Greg Iacurci, “Riding the Emotional Roller-coaster: In Conversation with Felix van Groeningen, Director and Co-writer of ‘Broken Circle Breakdown,’” Galo Magazine, November 8, 2013, 2, http://www.galomagazine.com/movies-tv/riding-the-emotional-rollercoaster-in-conversation-with-felix-van-groeningen-director-and-co-writer-of-broken-circle-breakdown.
9. I use the term temporal vector according to Michel Chion’s definition as the grouping of audiovisual microevents indicating “the irreversible direction in which time is flowing.” Michel Chion, “Audiovisual Phrasing,” in Film: A Sound Art, trans. Claudia Gorbman (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 266.
10. Maria Cizmic, “Music of Disruption: Collage and Fragmentation as an Expression of Trauma in Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings,” in Performing Pain: Music and Trauma in Eastern Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 30.
11. Lloyd Whitesell, “Musical Eclecticism and Ambiguity in The Sweet Hereafter,” American Music 29, no. 2 (2011): 234.
12. A secondary timeline is presented chronologically as a series of shorter, black-and-white scenes, which come between those shot in color and presented in reverse.
13. Joti Rockwell, “Time on the Crooked Road: Isochrony, Meter, and Disruption in Old-Time Country and Bluegrass Music,” Ethnomusicology 55, no. 1 (2011): 55-56.
14. Rockwell, “Time on the Crooked Road”; Jewly Hight, “‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ Connects Musicians, Generation After Generation,” All Things Considered, American Anthem series, National Public Radio, October 30, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/10/30/662203468.
15. Rockwell synthesizes ideas from the work of Charles Keil (1966), Christopher Hasty (1997), Mari Riess Jones (1976), Justin London (2004), and Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff (1983). Rockwell, “Time on the Crooked Road,” 58-59.
16. Rockwell, “Time on the Crooked Road,” 61.
17. Rockwell, “Time on the Crooked Road,” 65.
18. Rockwell, “Time on the Crooked Road,” 62.
19. Rockwell, “Time on the Crooked Road,” 61.
20. Kulezic-Wilson, Musicality of Narrative Film, 48-51.
21. Kulezic-Wilson, Musicality of Narrative Film, 49.
22. Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983), 21, 71.
23. Chion, “Audiovisual Phrasing,” 266.
24. Danijela Kulezic-Wilson, “The Music of Film Silence,” Music and the Moving Image 2, no. 3 (2009): 1.
25. Felix van Groeningen, commentary in “Anatomy of a Scene: ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown,’” interactive feature, series by Mekado Murphy, The New York Times, February 6, 2014, https://nyti.ms/2zneDWT.
26. Van Groeningen, “Anatomy of a Scene.”
27. The melody of the first line of verse 2 is heard in the banjo, but the lyrics are omitted.
28. “Ik ga daar zeker zijn … Ik ben Didier, trouwens” (author’s translation).
29. The Carter Family, “Can the Circle Be Unbroken,” originally released 1935, disc 3, track 10 on Anthology: Vol. 2 (1932-1935), Sony Music Entertainment, 2019, Apple Music.
30. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two, UMG Recordings, 1989, Apple Music.
31. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, originally released 1972, Capitol Records Nashville, 2002, Apple Music. See also Barbara Ching, “Country Music,” in A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American South, ed. Richard Gray and Owen Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 211-13.
32. “Maar dat is nie erg, want het licht van zo’n sterretje gaat altijd blijven verder gaan. Voorbij jou oogjes, altijd maar verder. Dus zal da sterretje altijd blijven bestaan, voor altijd en altijd en altijd” (author’s translation).
33. Kulezic-Wilson, Musicality of Narrative Film, 98.
34. Van Groeningen, “Anatomy of a Scene.”
35. David Bordwell, “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary American Film,” Film Quarterly 55, no. 3 (2002): 16-28.
36. Bordwell, “Intensified Continuity,” 24.
37. Richard Taruskin, “C-Minor Moods,” in Music in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-chapter-13.xml.