Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Changes in posts requiring some music theory knowledge

 I have removed content from posts that require reading music notation plus some knowledge of music theory. These were indulgences of mine, in part because I admire the work of authors cited in those posts. The problem is that music notation plus music theory contradicts the priorities of the pedagogy in Hearing the Movies: to develop critical viewing and listening skills for a general undergraduate audience. 

Quoting from the book's Preface:

Students can get full benefit from the book without the ability to read music notation (the authors have taught courses based on this material to general undergraduate audiences successfully for more than ten years), but some musical examples have been included to enhance understanding for those who can read them.

The content of these posts has been moved to a file published on the Texas ScholarWorks platform: Film Music: Some Posts from Blogs. Here is the abstract:

This file (1) gathers posts on music theory, especially harmony and musical topics, from our blog Hearing the Movies, (2) likewise gathers some posts on film music from my blog Ascending Cadence Gesture in Tonal Music, and (3) adds a few notes and additional information.

Friday, November 10, 2023


 Original post 1 February 2019; updated 8 August, 2022; 10 November 2023.

Guide to this blog: I created one in 2016 and covered the ~260 posts up to that time: see the link in the blog's sidebar under "Contributors." Since then, an additional thirty or more posts have mainly offered suggestions for classroom use based on both published and online sources, the latter including the blogs The Avid Listener, Musicology NowOUP Blog, and the 
Library of Congress's blog "In the Muse."


As of August 2022, I began work on updating the blog. After a hiatus, I am picking that up again in November 2023, fixing links where I can in previous posts (starting with the most recent ones and working back), adding information where relevant, and writing a few new posts similar to the ones mentioned under the "Guide" description above. 

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Some useful posts to the LOC (Library of Congress) Music blog

With this post, I am launching a new series called "Useful sites & posts." This series continues the focus on resources readily available online, especially those that offer context, analysis, or interpretation that might be, yes, useful for class activities, assignments, and papers. At the end, I've provided a list of nine previous blog posts (these are mostly from 2018) that are similar in intent and could have been included in a series like this.


Here is the main link to the Library of Congress's blog "In the Muse": Performing Arts Blog": link. There is a most helpful "Categories" tab near the top.

From the now more than 1000 entries (!!), here are a few that might be of interest to HtM students and instructors. All are valuable for providing production and other historical context grounded in LOC-held documents and collections.

West Side Story: link.

State Fair, "It Might as Well be Spring": link.

The Sound of Music, "My Favorite Things": link.

Star Trek: Two Versions of the Opening Theme: link.

A Look Back at A Streetcar Named Desire: link.

Film Music from 1923 and the Public Domain: link.

Richard Robbins and the Music of Merchant-Ivory: link.


Appendix: Items from this blog in 2018 that also fit my category of "useful posts":

A Man Escaped (Bresson, 1956). Dec 8, 2018.

Nathan Platte on Gone with the Wind (and others). May 4, 2018.

Christopher Doll on The Inception. Apr 27, 2018.

La La Land and Top Hat -- comparison. Apr 21, 2018.

Hollywood Musicals Quiz. Apr 14, 2018.

Film music and psychology (articles by Si-Liu Tan). Apr 7, 2018.

Linda Shaver-Gleason on Beethoven’s Deafness. Feb 4, 2018.

Reba Wissner on Hearing the Unseen. Feb 3, 2018.

Jonathan Godsall on pre-existing music. Jan 31, 2018.

Friday, June 30, 2023

Sleepless in Seattle cue list link updated

This updates (corrects) the link to a cue list for Sleepless in Seattle (2d edition, chapter 1).

 Link to the cue list.

(I was obliged to move the file to a different Google Drive when our university's contract with Google was updated last year. Apologies to those of you who tried and couldn't get access to the file about this time last year.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

When is music not all that important?

Just yesterday I watched Richard Linklater's Boyhood (production 2001-13; released 2014). The film, which has won many awards, is remarkable in that it follows the same set of actors as characters through a twelve-year period, focusing the narrative on two children, their mother, and her husbands. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, it is long but by no means excessively so by today's standards, though to some viewers (like this one) it may feel even longer because—except for abusive outbursts by the second and third husbands—it is low-key dramatically and emotionally throughout.  But those viewers (like this one) will certainly also acknowledge that the film's point is a true-to-life coming-of-age story and that "low-key" is not only appropriate but desirable.

Also appropriately, given the genre, film editing and sound editing are both traditional and non-intrusive. That brings me to the topic of this post. Diegetic music is heard several times in different environments—family singing, a band, etc.—but the music is so wholly embedded in and so thoroughly motivated by the narrative, that by film's end it remains in the memory at about the same level as image backgrounds of suburban houses in Houston, Austin, and San Marcos, Texas, the film's three locales. At least that was the case for viewers like this one. . . . I suspect the fact that no particular music acts as a sound motif contributed to this assessment.

In the early Hollywood sound film, especially dramas and action films, a similar effect could be created, inadvertently, by the nondiegetic orchestral scores that routinely played through at least 50% of the film's run-time—and often more than that. Through its sheer abundance—in some studios abetted by low volume levels—such "wall-to-wall" music could often be tuned out, one basis of Claudia Gorbman's term "unheard melodies." That was the case even for viewers like this one, whose primary research interests were in early Hollywood sound film.

There is of course no conceivable objective measurement for attention to music in the soundtrack. In Hearing the Movies, our central goal is to add skills of critical listening to skills of critical viewing, but we also admit the unwanted potential to distort one's viewing practice. That is to say, in recollection and interpretation of a feature film, it is always good to stand back and consider music in the context of the film's overall narrative, design, and effects.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Man Escaped (Bresson, 1956)

While teaching our film music and sound course, I often introduced scenes from Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953) and My Uncle (1958) as a novel way of reinforcing the idea that sound can be a varying, vital, sometimes unavoidable element of a filmmaker's creative method. Monsieur Hulot's indecipherable dialogue and many outrageous sound gags are hilarious.

Robert Bresson's contemporaneous A Man Escaped (1956) is of a different order altogether: a French Resistance fighter in Lyon jailed by the Nazis recounts his methodically worked-out scheme to escape. David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson write that the soundtrack is "a central factor in shaping our experience of the whole film. .  . through Bresson’s control of what sounds we hear, what qualities these sounds have, and what relationships exist among those sounds and between sound and image."
Throughout the film, sound has many important functions. As in all of his films, Bresson emphasizes the sound track, rightly believing that sound may be just as cinematic as images. At certain points in A Man Escaped, Bresson even lets his sound technique dominate the image; throughout the film, we are compelled to listen. Indeed, Bresson is one of a handful of directors who create a complete interplay between sound and image.
Bordwell has generously posted a PDF of the case study essay from which I have just quoted. The essay was deleted from an earlier edition of Bordwell and Thompson's Film Art: An Introduction and has been posted for free download here: link. [Link checked on 3-01-2024.] Go the lower part of the page, under the heading "Film analyses from earlier editions of Film Art."

A Man Escaped is included in the excellent Criterion Collection series of DVD editions, and the entire essay posted by Bordwell (excepting only the scene example at the end) is included on the Special Features disk. An actor reads the text in voice-over while stills or clips are offered in the imagetrack. The PDF essay also includes a set of questions at the end; these could serve as the starting point for class discussion, assignment, or even paper topic.

The essay's headings are:
Fontaine’s Commentary
Sound Effects and Narration
Sound Motifs
A Sample Sequence
Summary [and Questions]
About the music, they write that "another auditory motif involves the only nondiegetic sound in the film—passages from a Mozart mass." The work is the C Minor Mass, K. 427. Both Kyrie and Agnus Dei (which Mozart did not write) are said to be used -- I recognized only the Kyrie. Apart from the expected positions at beginning and end, brief excerpts (usually about 10 seconds or less) are heard at or near these timings: 20:28, 28:30, 40:00, 48:40, 51:40, 61:05, 69:00, and 100:00.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Nathan Platte on Gone with the Wind (and others)

A very interesting play off the famous "Tara" theme in Gone with the Wind could form the basis of a comparison paper. Nathan Platte reveals that the composer, Max Steiner, had actually written jazz/blues versions of the tune for two films just a year or so earlier: link. [Link checked on 3-01-2024.] The films are They Made Me a Criminal (1939)—starring John Garfield, Claude Rains, and Ann Sheridan—and Crime School (1938), which stars Humphrey Bogart and Gale Page. As the titles suggest, both belong to the distinctly Warner Bros. genre of inner city crime and gangster films.

Quite a distance from southern plantations! Platte's explanations and speculation about the transformation from crime film to antebellum romance are stimulating in themselves, and one or more of them might well be explored further in a paper that forms and argues a thesis.

Nathan Platte is the author of Making Music in Selznick's Hollywood (Oxford University Press, 2017): link to publisher page.   [Link checked on 3-08-2024.]