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date: 07 August 2020


Abstract and Keywords

This chapterpresents an overview of the coverage of this volume, which is about film music studies. It chronicles the development of film music studies as a discipline and suggests that its rise is associated with the commodity history of feature films. It describes the evolution of the application of music in motion pictures, from the silent films era to the present time. This chapteralso provides an outline of the chapters in the volume.

Keywords: film music studies, feature films, motion pictures, silent films, commodity history

The Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies charts the current state of, and prospects for, scholarly work focusing on one element of audiovisual aesthetic experience. Music’s role over time has by no means been simple or obvious—either to producers or consumers of audiovisual art—and it is both the contested territory and the range of creative, industrial, and critical responses that are the objects of our inquiry here.

Film Studies and Film Music Studies

From its beginnings more than a century ago, film as a commercial and artistic medium has provoked not only practice-oriented writing but also aesthetic-critical manifestos and technical or technological studies (the last significantly concerned with issues relating to sound recording and reproduction). As a cultural phenomenon, film has long been supported by extensive review and fan literatures, as well, the best of which offered—and still does offer—a great deal of insight and specific scholarship. It was, however, the combination of the influence of the circle of French filmologues surrounding André Bazin (and linked to the journal Cahiers du Cinema) and the rapid expansion of colleges and universities in the 1950s and 1960s, especially in the United States, that brought film into literature departments, where feature films as adaptations of stories and novels (and to a lesser extent films on historical topics) lent themselves naturally to pedagogical use. Films also, of course, assisted with language training and gave insight into national cultures. At the same time, American studies programs, established both outside the United States (mainly in Europe) and within the country, contributed to an increasing focus on film, whether directly or indirectly through the critical study of contemporary American culture. From a practice standpoint, the simplification and reduced cost of production materials and processes—first and foremost among them magnetic tape, which became commercially available in the late 1940s, and the portable cameras that magnetic tape made practical—quickly (p. 2) led to widespread experimental use of film, independent shorts and even features, and before long the establishment of specific radio, television, and film departments in many tertiary educational institutions, a development that dovetailed nicely with then current ideas of technological progress and educational outreach.

On a broader platform still, film—specifically the full-length feature—has been the predominant art form in most of the world’s cultures for nearly a century now. Its historical ties to existing arts practices and repertoires vary from country to country but in general are complex and, to a surprising extent, still obscure (see, in this volume, Pisani, Chapter 22, on links to nineteenth-century theater, and Kalinak, Chapter 24, on some international practices). The entire range of film genres, but particularly avant-garde (or experimental) film, filmed performances, and the familiar narrative feature film, have been implicated at one time or another in two central debates of arts cultures in the twentieth century: the high/low (or serious/popular) binary and the status of recorded sound. Thus, in addition to the familiar and deeply entrenched position of film in everyday cultural commerce, there are not only historical but also strong theoretical and ideological dimensions to the study of film.

Music has wound its way in and out of these debates and their literatures almost from the beginning. Periodicals and practical manuals served the professional and semiprofessional musicians who performed for early film exhibition. Serious theoretical issues were pushed to the fore with the coming of sound, in part because of rapid technological changes, in part because an established tradition of film production and exhibition already existed by that time, against which the emerging practices of the sound film could be judged (for more on this, see Buhler and Neumeyer, Chapter 2). Already by the mid-1930s, attention was turning to composer-auteurs (by analogy with the director-auteur), that is, the creative musicians who worked in studio music departments and who fashioned original symphonic underscore to classic-era films in the United States and elsewhere. The status of this underscore came into question only in the early 1960s, as a broader range of musics came to occupy, and often to dominate, both performances and underscore in feature films—sometimes also in the typically hour-long filmed television dramas that derived directly from the feature-film tradition. The introduction of the Dolby noise-reduction system in the early 1970s changed the nature of the soundtrack—and music’s position in it—nearly as radically as had the coming of sound more than forty years earlier. The composer-auteur was partially displaced by the sound designer, a soundtrack-auteur who created the subtle and detailed mix of soundtrack elements with which we are all familiar in the present day. When directors acted as their own sound designers, composers might be shut out altogether.

Along with these changes in practice, the gradual incorporation of film studies into the academy after the Second World War led to a new type of discussion of film and the soundtrack. Before that, studies of music and the soundtrack tended to be oriented toward industry professionals in the form of manuals and technical articles and toward general audiences in the form of books and newspaper and magazine articles on general film aesthetics, histories, and stars. Rarely were studies of film music oriented toward methodological or critical concerns that would in turn promote scholarly production. (p. 3) This situation began to change as film criticism became more sophisticated (as noted earlier), film studies emerged as an academic discipline, and methodological options and priorities became overt (on film theory and criticism in this period, see Buhler, Chapter 7).

In 1977, the year that the premiere of Star Wars solidified the Dolby system’s position in film exhibition (as theaters realized that screenings with Dolby sound were attracting far larger audiences than those without), Roy Prendergast’s textbook/tradebook Film Music: A Neglected Art was published, offering a nostalgic but also affronted view of an art done wrong. Although the book’s accounts are even-handed in many respects, Prendergast clearly spoke for composers of the traditional symphonic underscore, who felt they deserved respect (that is, their craft was mostly ignored, neglected) but who also feared that the tradition they represented was in danger of disappearing under the combined onslaught of popular music, sound design that took away much of music’s traditional role in guiding and supporting narrative, and directors who “composed” underscore by dropping in preexisting recordings (on this last, see Hubbert, Chapter 11). A decade later, Claudia Gorbman’s Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (1987) might have appeared to play into this narrative with its initial adjective, but in fact the book is a historical, theoretical, and methodological survey of symphonic underscore in the classical Hollywood system, where “unheard” refers to the conceptual and functional subordination of music to the imagetrack and its primary sound element, speech (or dialogue). Among its distinctive contributions, the book brings together French and American scholarly programs in film and applies them to music (Gorbman began her career as a professor of French literature).

The very titles of Prendergast’s tradebook and Gorbman’s academic monograph, then, crystalized two long-standing issues of aesthetics and practice. Two words—“neglected” and “unheard”—encapsulate, respectively, the question of film music’s status in the world and the question of music’s status in the soundtrack; they are now the longest-running tropes in the scholarly literature. The first word has cultural-ideological implications (Neglected by whom? To whose advantage?). The second has philosophical (aesthetic) and practical, creative implications (Unheard in relation to what?), but, equally, implications that are historical, critical, and methodological in a field where the classical model of the narrative feature film is understood by most to hold sway into the present, despite the many changes over the years in production structures, directorial priorities, exhibition venues, and textual (commodity) form.

Film Music Studies as a Discipline

The rise of film music studies closely parallels the recent commodity history of feature films. The widespread availability of VHS tapes in the 1980s encouraged some initial steps, as it suddenly became possible to acquire films and play them repeatedly, thereby setting up the most basic necessary conditions for close study of an individual film and (p. 4) its soundtrack. The ability to record from television with a VCR, along with a gradual ramping-up of commercial releases of both historical and contemporary films, greatly facilitated style studies as well. Gorbman’s book appeared at a very opportune moment in this process and is generally understood as the first—and now classic—text of film music studies as an academic area of study. It is, indeed, a treatise so sturdy in its historical and aesthetic arguments that, even in the present, the only real blemishes one might point to are a reliance on a dated psychoanalytic suture theory and the relative obscurity of the films in the chapters devoted to case studies.

Almost immediately thereafter the pace of publication began to pick up, starting with a cluster of monographs published between 1992 and 1994 that moved the field forward quickly: Caryl Flinn, Strains of Utopia (1992); Kathryn Kalinak, Settling the Score (1992); Royal S. Brown, Overtones and Undertones (1994); and George Burt, The Art of Film Music (1994). Journal articles and books continued to appear sporadically throughout the decade, with the latter especially widening the field of serious inquiry beyond the general questions of description and interpretation that were the focus of the earlier literature. Nicholas Cook’s Analysing Musical Multimedia (1998) offered a framework for analysis of all manner of music’s combinations with other media, including not only the familiar audiovisual media but also song, opera, and dance. Martin Marks, in Music and the Silent Film (1997), applied the tools of musicological research to case studies of music in early film. Jeff Smith’s The Sounds of Commerce (1998) emphasized the interpenetration of industrial, commercial, and aesthetic practices. Anahid Kassabian’s Hearing Film (2001), concerned with an updated interpretative model for music in relation to questions of gender, identity, and agency, also advanced repertorial breadth by reading music in films of the 1980s and 1990s, where most earlier studies had focused on the classical sound film. By the end of the decade, the literature had advanced to the point where a thorough critical review could be entertained: Robynn Stilwell’s “Music in Films” (2002) covers the period 1980–1996. Since the year 2000, as Pool and Wright correctly observe, “writing on film music has exploded” (2011, xv). Kate Daubney initiated a series of single-volume case studies with her study of Max Steiner’s music for Now, Voyager (2000). Journal articles and anthologies of case studies quickly proliferated. Isolated articles on film music topics appeared in a variety of journals, but since 2000 three academic journals have been established with a focus on film music and closely related subjects (Music and the Moving Image [University of Illinois Press, for the Film Music Society]; Music, Sound, and the Moving Image [University of Liverpool]; and the Journal of Film Music [Los Angeles]). Representative essay anthologies include Music and Cinema (2000), ed. James Buhler, Caryl Flinn, and David Neumeyer; Film Music: Critical Approaches (2001), ed. K. J. Donnelly; Between Opera and Cinema (2002), ed. Jeongwon Joe and Rose Theresa; Changing Tunes: The Use of Pre-existing Music in Film (2006), ed. Phil Powrie and Robynn Stilwell; and, among the more recent entries, Wagner and Cinema (2010), ed. Jeongwon Joe and Sander L. Gilman. Textbooks followed in short order, including histories by Mervyn Cooke (2008), Laurence MacDonald (1998), Roger Hickman (2006), and James Wierzbicki (2009); three anthologies of source readings edited by Julie Hubbert (2011), Mervyn Cooke (2010), and (p. 5) James Wierzbicki, Nathan Platte, and Ian Cross (2011); and an introduction to analysis of music in the soundtrack, in the context of a technological history of film sound, by James Buhler, David Neumeyer, and Rob Deemer (2010). Julie Brown (2009) has written a thoughtful chapter-length students’ introduction to research questions in music for film and television, and very recently, Warren Sherk (2011) and Jeannie Pool and Stephen H. Wright (2011) have published book-length guides to research.

As this brief and selective historical account of the literature suggests, film music studies are now firmly established in the humanities, and I note with satisfaction that the number of scholars, particularly younger scholars, who are devoting time and effort to the field continues to increase. Nevertheless, film music studies do not constitute a distinct and separate discipline. They are, instead, a node between disciplines, principally film studies, language and literature studies, media (communication) studies, and musicology (or music studies). Others include especially philosophy (aesthetics) and psychology (cognitive studies; on this, see Cohen, Chapter 5). The material of that node, of course, is the huge repertoire of the cinema—more than a century’s worth now—and its catalogue of musical practices, as augmented after 1950 by television, documentary videotape and films of performances, and, more recently, by computer-enabled formats, notably video games and internet-based digital video, both professional and amateur (on music in television, see Rodman, Chapter 21; on music and digital platforms, see Smith, Chapter 10, and Hubbert, Chapter 11; on music in the early history of video games, see Lerner, Chapter 12).

Of these bodies of audiovisual art, scholars have given by far the greatest attention to feature films, with a disproportionate concentration on commercial American films, to a smaller extent European, Russian, and Japanese films, and only in the past decade or so films from other nations and cultural groups, including the so-called “transnational cinemas,” which consciously adopt the format and methods of American and European film production but with themes and cultural priorities that may well differ. Television has been represented mainly by long-running series, particularly those from the 1980s and later. Internet studies, not surprisingly, have steadily gravitated toward social media and YouTube and its competitors.

Even if they are not—and they are not likely to become—a separate discipline, film music studies do require their experts. For the individual interested in criticism and interpretation, the scholarly literature of film music is, even now, by no means too large to survey in a reasonable amount of time. Pool and Wright do note that the Library of Congress catalog now lists 150 books on the topic of film music history (“85 of them published since 1980”) (2011, xv), but that number is still minuscule compared with the volume of published work in most established disciplines. On the other hand, if one adds, as one should, the scholarly literatures of sound and film studies, extended by the trade-book literature on studios, genres, national cinemas, directors, and stars, then the literature with which the scholar needs to be familiar, even if much of it may often be used opportunistically, is indeed substantial.

Even more demanding than the literature for the historian and for the analyst of style is the size and variety of the repertoire, which does demand a large commitment of time (p. 6) in itself. Accordingly, a small body of scholars has arisen whose main focus of research is music for film. For those in academic positions, institutional homes are mostly in music studies, with a very few in film studies departments. In music, the positions tend to be slots for American music or twentieth-century music, with a few outliers in other areas, especially in music theory (in part because of that discipline’s traditional association with music composition and thus its long-standing interest in recent and contemporary musics, in part because music theorists often carry out style studies based on detailed textual analysis).

For film studies or communication departments, film history has been the typical placement for scholars, but that is changing as a rapidly advancing trajectory toward greater attention to sound studies continues. The great majority of those who have presented and published film music analyses and interpretations to date have had backgrounds and specific expertise in music studies. Film studies scholars have begun to bypass the modes requiring highly specialized musical knowledge and jargon by moving toward sound studies, which take the formal unit of the soundtrack as their object and admit of a wider range of methods for audiovisual analysis. Since music is one element of the film soundtrack, along with human speech (dialogue) and special effects (all sounds other than music and speech), a highly focused study of music in a film can be faulted for skewing attention in ways that do not always or automatically yield the most productive or richest results for interpretation. Furthermore, the focus on music tends to encourage historical narratives that isolate music as a special case, a long-standing problem for music in relation to other arts. In the future, one might well expect that areas, divisions, or even departments will coalesce around groups of practitioners, sound/music theorists, and historians, with an emphasis on cultures of reproduced sound, in particular sound film and contemporary musical and social practices that depend on reproduced sound.

The rapid rise of sound studies and music media studies promises to reconfigure historical narratives of twentieth-century arts and music in ways that were hard to imagine as little as ten years ago. If so, the future trajectory of film music studies may very well be toward a position as a subfield of a broadly construed discipline of sound studies. How such a discipline will fit into—or, better, transform—traditional institutional structures remains to be seen. In the meantime, film music studies are in a charmed moment. For film studies scholars, a substantial and focused literature on music in film is finally available. For music studies scholars, generational change is breaking down barriers to serious study of music outside the traditional classical canon and is rapidly naturalizing pluralism within the music studies community. In this environment, we have a better chance than ever of writing adequate historical narratives of music in the past century, narratives that do not cling to a nostalgic musical textuality based on the written score but acknowledge that recorded sound is the elephant in the room for a proper history, as it has generated the first truly musical texts, which fundamentally changed both music making and concepts about music, and did so from early on in the twentieth century. Sound film is deeply embedded in that change.

(p. 7) This Handbook

It is through television, video games, and internet-based audiovisual media that film music studies engage with—and by and large pass over to—cultural studies and sociology or anthropology-based media studies. This Handbook is not directly concerned with those areas of inquiry; the focus here is on the priorities and interests of history, literature, and performance arts—that is to say, on historical research, analysis and criticism, and the construction of historical narratives. Understood this way, film music studies begin from and always revolve about their repertoire base, whether that foundation is taken narrowly as the dominant form of the feature film or in more inclusive terms as an audiovisual repertoire.

Determining the boundaries of the repertoire is one issue, whether in the context of an ontology (for example, if film is an art, what is required to distinguish this art from ephemera such as home movies?) or of exhibition history. In the sound film, music’s questions are subsumed by those relating to the entire text, since the sound strip is a physical part of the film (or, more recently, an integral but still distinct part of the digital file). In the pre-sound-film era, however, the situation was completely different. Not only were films typically shown in programs that included live or recorded musical and stage performances, but the sound that accompanied a film varied widely, according to the status of the program in a theater’s weekly schedule, to the status of the theater itself (as a neighborhood theater, a small-town opera house or vaudeville theater, or a big-city picture palace), or to the performance forces at hand (from none at all to an amplified gramophone record, lone pianist, organist, or percussionist, to a vaudeville orchestra of eight to ten players or a symphonic orchestra of anywhere from fifteen to sixty musicians). In other words, the history of production and exhibition, fundamental to the study of film, is no less important for its music.

Given the rapidly changing and globally expanding situation of audiovisual media now, any volume like the present one must appear either conservative—in the sense of describing an established set of interests and practices—or else highly speculative, extrapolating to a variety of possible futures. The former was obviously the better choice for this Handbook, not only because it offers greater depth and clarity in treatment but also because scholars’ interests and the literature they have generated from their research have now advanced to the place where, for the first time, summaries, surveys, and historical essays on topics broader than case studies are not only desirable, as they have long been, but are also more firmly grounded. From that newly possible moment of grounding, a plausible future for ideas and interpretation can also be more easily and more productively read, and we can leave technology to make its own impact through the whirlwind development it has undergone since the early 1920s, from the moment of the rapid rise of electricity, commercial radio, and shortly thereafter the sound cinema.

(p. 8) Part 1: Film Music: Central Questions

In the introductory Chapter 2, James Buhler and I focus on a crucial moment in the history of cinema—the transition decade (roughly 1925–1935)—and specifically on the move from sound in silent film performance practices to music in the soundtrack of the sound film. We do not reject the traditional narrative emphasizing the break between silent and sound film (the ontology of the sound film is indeed fundamentally different), but we argue that there are continuities in the treatment of music that have important consequences for the integrated soundtrack of the classical Hollywood sound film, which is the benchmark for sound feature films generally.

Marcia Citron’s chapter on opera and film, Chapter 3, brings together these two venerable audiovisual forms and shows, first, what happens in the most direct hybrid, the filmed opera or opera-film, and, second, how opera is integrated into and how it can signify in wide-circulation dramatic feature films. Her chapter “Opera and Visual Media” in a companion volume, The Oxford Handbook of Opera, surveys and describes the issues. “Opera and Film,” in the present Handbook, focuses on opera’s embedding in film narratives.

Rick Altman explores graphical representations of film sequences in Chapter 4. He argues that such visual aids are essential to detailed and accurate analysis; that, in the form of frame enlargements, which became common in the 1980s, they “set a new standard for intellectual discussion and argumentation on cinema issues”; but that they also exacerbated a prior tendency to favor the visual over the aural. Altman discusses several historical examples that combine drawings or screen grabs with musical notation, beginning with a well-known diagram by Sergei Eisenstein (for Alexander Nevsky), and somewhat similar examples from Manvell and Huntley 1957 and Gorbman 1987, and moving on to forms that he and his students have developed over the past decade with an aim of expressing a broader range of features of the soundtrack.

Annabel Cohen, like Marcia Citron, has provided a discussion, Chapter 5, that is complementary to others she written for recent volumes in the series: The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology (2009) and The Oxford Handbook of Music and Emotion (2010). Where these reviewed, respectively, psychological studies relevant to the role of music in electronic and live artistic multimedia contexts and music as one of the primary sources of emotion in a film, the current chapter takes a broader view of the psychology of film music. Cohen describes the relevant literature in cognitive science, both theoretical and experimental, that forwards an initiative to explain why music is important to film and also how music functions in film, providing empirical grounding for practices of description and interpretation.

In a wide-ranging essay, Chapter 6, Peter Schweinhardt and Johannes C. Gall examine the life and work of Hanns Eisler, a powerful film, film music, cultural, and political node in himself, and one uniquely important in the history of film music and film music studies. Excepting perhaps the Russians Shostakovitch and Prokofiev, Eisler covered more cultural and political ground than any prominent composer in the twentieth (p. 9) century—from the end of the Austrian Empire to Weimar-era Germany, then to an itinerant life ranging across Europe in support of Communist causes, abruptly to the United States and, through deportation, back to Europe following hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Eisler wrote concert and stage music throughout his career, but the authors emphasize that he also wrote music for films in virtually every year of his adult life (from 1927 on). Still, he is best known among film scholars for the book Composing for the Films (1947, coauthored with Theodor Adorno), the “foundational work of critical theory on film music [that] in a very real way prepared the ground for much recent scholarship on film music” (Buhler, Chapter 7 infra). The authors contextualize the book through a survey of Eisler’s experience as an early practitioner in sound film, including an experimental Film Music Project that laid much of the ground-work for the book, whose famously convoluted writing and publication history is then unravelled. The final section of the chapter summarizes the motivations and methods associated withwhat the authors call Eisler’s “lifelong film music project.”

Chapter 7 is the first of three (the others being Chapter 14 and Chapter 15) in which James Buhler surveys the development of film theory and criticism after the Second World War. Here he offers an account of the development of film studies in the period roughly 1950–1990, relying for its frame on Francesco Casetti’s three-stage model (ontological, extra-disciplinary, and disciplinary [or field]). Buhler positions music and sound within each of these paradigms, for the last of them devoting particular attention to the opposed views of formalism and critical theory (including ideology critique).

Part 2: Genre and Platform

The first two chapters of Part 2 offer historical-critical accounts of one genre where music has been central to production from nearly the beginning—animated films—as well as another where music must necessarily play a significant role—the musical. After that, we look to establishing contexts for analysis of the feature film by venturing outside, as it were, to questions of the interaction of the film and music industries, the history of the compilation score, and music in the early history of video games.

Daniel Goldmark provides a succinct historical account of animated films and their musics in Chapter 8. Working with shorts and animated features as well as television shows, Goldmark traces a path running from Disney’s Steamboat Willie (1928) to The Fairly Odd Parents (2001– ) and emphasizes the variety of early studio practices, the centrality of production for music, and the effects of technological changes after 1950.

Cari McDonnell discusses the film musical in Chapter 9, centering her discussion on the problem of a long-standing critical bias toward the integrated musical (in which narrative considerations, rather than performance opportunities, are primary). Summaries and critiques of genre theory and conceptions of the integrated musical are followed by (p. 10) a reversal: a consideration of film genres or subgenres that are not normally considered part of the repertoire of the film musical but which arguably belong there. As a case study, McDonnell looks at singing cowboy films of the 1930s, in particular those starring Gene Autry.

Jeff Smith turns attention to music in film commerce in Chapter 10 by surveying the history of interactions between the film and music industries. He argues that this history shows a pattern of several long-term business cycles, each of which he associates with a specific point in time: 1927, 1958, 1975, and 1999. In each of these years the cycle was prompted to turn by an important change, either in film technology, music technology, industry structures, or in some combination of these.

Julie Hubbert also brings the work into the present in Chapter 11, exploring the phenomenon of the compilation score, a device not unknown in earlier decades (indeed, it closely resembles some characteristic silent-film-era methods) but which emerged as an important practice in the 1960s and has remained so since. Where earlier uses of recorded music were primarily stock library cues, in the 1960s directors drew on commercially available recordings of all types. There were economic reasons (cost, effects of studio reorganization, popular-music tie-ins), production reasons (director control of the soundtrack), and cultural reasons (in the era of the stereo LP, listeners’ relationships to music had changed). Hubbert argues that compilation practices were not static; she charts three stages in a process of change, roughly according to decade and—as with the business cycles discussed by Jeff Smith—closely aligned with significant technological changes.

Neil Lerner looks at the early history of video games in Chapter 12, primarily arcade games in the period 1977–1983. The topic may seem far removed from the feature film, but Lerner demonstrates that it is not the tangent it might at first appear to be. He uses familiar methods of description and comparison to get at what he calls “the stylistic distinctiveness that occurs in the history of video game music,” and in so doing he locates a thread that ties early video games to early film music practices, a parallel history that finds video games “adopting many of the same strategies for fitting music to screen action.”

Part 3: Interpretative Theory and Practice

Part 3, then, turns to issues of interpretation. In Chapter 13, Lawrence Kramer draws connections between music (particularly classical music) and the representation of the human body onscreen. He begins from and explores both implications and limitations of four theses: cinema is about moving images of bodies, those cinematic bodies are “primarily or originarily erotic,” classical music is particularly adept in enabling the cinematic embodiment that screen images alone cannot, and, finally, music so enables through a contradiction that it “cultivates without having either the capacity or, for the (p. 11) most part, the intent to resolve…between the body as sensorial and the body as form or figure.”

James Buhler continues his examination of critical theory and interpretation (which began in Chapter 7) with a survey of the literature and arguments around film, sound, and music with respect to gender and sexuality (Chapter 14) and psychoanalysis and subjectivity (Chapter 15).

In Chapter 16, Robynn Stilwell introduces two case studies—characteristically for the field, each focuses on a single film—by arguing for the foundational importance of the practice, its role as a thorough-going way to “recapitulate the experience of encountering a film.” In the first of these studies, Chapter 17, Mitchell Morris traces the connections between a prevailing mode of “authenticity”—a familiarizing naturalism—in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and the music Elmer Bernstein wrote for the film. In Chapter 18, Julie McQuinn explores ways in which the compilation score for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys supports the film’s thorough intermingling of present and past, natural and artificial, sane and insane. As Stilwell puts it in summing up, “[m]‌usic, one of the most potent cues for memory, [becomes] a pivot point for recollection, nostalgia, and delusion.”

Part 4: Contemporary Approaches to Analysis

In Part 4, the focus is on descriptive analysis, but the view offered is deliberately prismatic, three quite different approaches to understanding music in audiovisual media.

Scott Murphy shows, in Chapter 19, how the tools of contemporary music theory can provide a context for sound qualities particularly common in film music since the early 1980s. These harmonic progressions are pairs of chords (in this case, triads) related in ways that are considered “distant” in traditional tonal theory (the model that is intended to cover eighteenth- and most nineteenth-century styles in European concert music). There are forty-eight possible such pairs, which Murphy names “tonal-triadic progression classes” or TTPCs. He demonstrates that the TTPCs can be readily explained and grouped using neo-Riemannian theory, and that these groupings can not only furnish a tool for stylistic analysis (to connect and tally like progressions in different films) but also offer a key to interpreting the narrative and expressive roles of these progressions in specific film sequences.

Marianne Kielian-Gilbert, in Chapter 20, explores some particular and very concrete phenomenal issues with respect to the potential of “vivid listening” for music’s temporal figurations in and of material contexts (music/film, audiovisual). She focuses on “how listening in film becomes a problem for analysis, and how recontextualizing music in (p. 12) cinematic settings (moving images) interacts with experiences of their (music/filmic) temporal unfolding.”

Ronald Rodman offers a survey of literature and analytical approaches in the study of television music (not only series shows but also commercials) in Chapter 21. He distinguishes between a composer-based “auteurist” model and “agency”-oriented models that focus on communication and audience response, then discusses television as commodity (especially music in television commercials) and the distinctive character of music video, and he assesses the current state and prospects for television music research.

Part 5: Historical Issues

Part 5, even more than many earlier chapters in the Handbook, emphasizes the fundamental importance of basic historical research to film music studies. The chapters in this section demonstrate how the work can be done and the kinds of results that can be obtained, but in so doing they also highlight how much work remains to be done in cinematic precedents, production and performance practices, and the history of film and film music criticism—not only for the United States but also for other national cinemas. The essays are arranged roughly chronologically by topic.

Michael Pisani discusses precedents for film music practices in the nineteenth-century theater in Chapter 22. Making liberal use of archival documents, Pisani demonstrates that the soundscape of the theater was considerably richer and more varied than might be suggested by a retrospective history (that is, a narrative that reads backward from silent film to earlier theatrical practices, assuming film’s continuity with the theater). Although there was undeniably a strong strain of continuity, Pisani shows that techniques of the nineteenth-century melodrama also leapt beyond the silent film to influence underscoring practices in the sound film of the 1930s and 1940s.

Julie Brown explores the surprisingly complex set of questions surrounding silent films and their musics in Chapter 23. She emphasizes the empherality (that is, performative rather than textual character) of exhibition practices for the silent film. To do this, she focuses on the reconstruction and exhibition of “special scores,” the small minority of musical accompaniments that were composed for individual films.

In Chapter 24, Kathryn Kalinak offers the reader a glimpse of the diversity in international practices during the same period, before the “enforced” standardization that arose with the commodity-text of the sound feature film. Ranging around the globe, from South America to India, Kalinak provides a new sense of what the sound of a cinema was like, offers a broader context in which to consider American practices at the time, and also makes suggestions about how research in these areas can be forwarded.

Nathan Platte (Chapter 25) follows the history of orchestral performance from early silent film (where reactions to orchestral playing could be surprisingly negative) through the picture-palace era and early Vitaphone shorts and features well into the (p. 13) sound film era. A case study of short films of symphonic performances from the 1950s allows Platte to make observations about the role of the orchestra not only in the cinema but also more broadly in American culture.


I am grateful, first and foremost, to the authors for their contributions to this volume—and also for their patience and cooperation throughout the several stages of the writing and editing process. Norm Hirschy initiated the idea for this Handbook and overcame my reservations about whether a large essay anthology on this topic was even possible (the present volume, I am pleased to report, has obviously proved me wrong). He has been steadfast in support and prompt with advice and counsel from the first day till now. I am also grateful to others at Oxford University Press, especially Lisbeth Redfield, assistant editor, and Michael Durnin, copyeditor. The production managers at Newgen, Balamurugan and Saranya Rajkumar, worked with us with both courtesy and efficiency. Thanks to my frequent coauthor James Buhler for many conversations about design and priorities; to Margaret Fons for her work regularizing formatting and checking film titles and release years; to Christopher Husted for engraving music examples in two of the chapters; and to several rights holders for permission to reuse material from published work.


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