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. 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
Music
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. 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.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Christopher Doll on The Inception

SMT-V is the Videocast Journal of the Society for Music Theory; it has been publishing since 2015 using the Vimeo platform. The most recent title is Christopher Doll's “Was it Diegetic, or Just a Dream? Music’s Paradoxical Place in the Film Inception”: link.

Here is the abstract:
Between "diegetic" film music (heard by the characters) and "nondiegetic" film music (heard only by the audience) is a paradoxical space called the "fantastical gap." A film such as Inception (2010) makes traversal of this gap into an overt theme, obscuring our sense of place to such a degree that even the literal plot of the movie is open to interpretation, and thus also illustrating the extent to which filmmakers can manipulate an audience's understanding of the filmic world through the blurring of the diegetic/nondiegetic divide.
The video opens with succinct example clips for the categories of diegetic, nondiegetic, and "fantastical gap," then traces the connection between the latter, musical themes, and narrative. Although posted to a professional music theory site, “Was it Diegetic, or Just a Dream?" is very accessible and would be an excellent accessory to the opening pages of Chapter 3.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

La La Land and Top Hat -- comparison

Students looking for a topic for a comparison paper might do well to start with Steven Cohan's post on the Oxford University Press blog: link. Cohan mentions references  in La La Land (2016) to several classical Hollywood musicals, but makes a number of comments comparing it specifically with the Astaire-Rogers musical Top Hat (1935). 

Cohan's list of numbers and their generic status as "challenge dance," "show number," etc., could easily be applied to other musicals.

His statement about the status of song and dance numbers certainly chimes with our generalizations about the musical in Hearing the Movies. Cohan asserts that "the numbers direct the progress of the narrative, with the boy-meets-girl plot pushed forward by the musical elements, which is also to say that the numbers are where the substance of the film resides, not the plot. The numbers are its flagship sequences."

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Hollywood Musicals Quiz

A Hollywood musicals quiz is available on the Oxford University Press blog: link.
The quiz is based on a chapter in a book by Todd Berliner. The chapter "traces the history of the convention that characters in Hollywood musicals burst into song without realistic motivation."

This idea is related to—but is distinct from—the audio dissolve that we discuss in Hearing the Movies, chapter 3. Although we do say that the audio dissolve "serves as a transition to song and dance," we use the term as Rick Altman defines it, for the transition from diegetic song and accompaniment to song with a non-diegetic accompaniment. In such cases, the initial status is clearly diegetic ("The character seems to know very well that he or she is singing"). In fact, "one very common device in classical Hollywood musicals is to show one or more characters gathered around a piano." Once this is established, and "as the song progresses, nondiegetic orchestral accompaniment enters, replacing the piano."

Berliner is concerned, then, with what happens before the singing starts and with the transition into it. This notion that musicals permit "bursting into song without realistic motivation" is consistent with our generalization that film "musicals do not maintain the clear separation of diegetic and nondiegetic registers and so cannot rigorously enforce the boundaries of the diegetic world, which seems to constantly dissolve under the force of song." (Quotes are from Hearing the Movies, second edition, p. 69).

Monday, April 9, 2018

More to the YouTube exercise

Recently I rewrote a post from 2011 in generic form in order to compensate for the problems arising from deleted YouTube videos: link to that post. I discussed three of the five options from the original post.

Here are the other two.

To begin, a reminder of task, goals, etc.:
Task: describe different visual tracks as they relate to a single audio track (different performances of the same musical composition).
Goals: Make students aware of their learned viewing habits and provide early practice in describing sound in relation to image.
Justification: The format aids practice of some basic skills while isolating that work from the complex narrative contexts of feature films. The limits of the musical text make the sound track act as a control, against which to compare different collections of images. Tempo remains a variable in the audio track as well.
Procedure: Begin by playing a recording of the composition without any video track. Point out or discuss simple formal articulations, so that markers will be available to aid detailed analysis and discussion of the video examples.
Version no. 4: compare tempos (speed) of different musical performances.
Here the task is to describe and evaluate the effect of different tempos in two audio tracks on their visual tracks. (Ideally, this would be done with the same visual track and different music performances, but those clips would most likely have to be newly prepared by the instructor.)
Version no. 5: filmed performances.
These are of two types: single camera and static image; multiple cameras and subsequently edited. Students who are musicians can be particularly sensitive to the editing and can thus be prompted to analyze a clip or compare two or more.
Not that these two options involve more than one video track and therefore are really variants of the commutation test from Hearing the Movies, chapter 1.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Film music and psychology (articles by Si-Liu Tan)

Here is another interesting twist on the commutation test: shifting the same music from apparently diegetic to apparently non-diegetic status.

On the Oxford University Press blog (link), Professor Si-Liu Tan reports on an experiment she ran with collaborators Matthew Spackman and Elizabeth Wakefield. They used a scene from Minority Report (2002) in which the two lead characters are in a mall attempting to evade the police while "Moon River" is played softly (so it would seem to be diegetic, coming from the mall's sound system). The researchers re-recorded "Moon River" to play louder and more crisply, trying thereby to simulate non-diegetic music. As a foil to that, they also played non-diegetic generic chase music.

Experiment participants listened to these different versions. Questions focused on the relationship between the two characters, and results showed surprisingly different reactions to "Moon River" depending on its presumed diegetic or non-diegetic status.

Professor Tan says it was
not our intention to draw any grand conclusions about the definitive and predictable effects of diegetic versus nondiegetic music. . . . The specific effects of migrating a piece of music from diegetic to nondiegetic depend on the unique interplay of music and moving images. However, our study suggests that the diegetic/nondiegetic distinction is perceptually salient to a general film audience. In some cases, it may lead to dramatically different perceptions of the tension of a scene, the attitudes, motives, and relationships of characters, and other judgments fundamental to one’s understanding of the unfolding film narrative. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Using YouTube for comparison exercises (update)

I wrote here about the utility of YouTube for elementary comparison exercises that draw on audiovisual analysis. Students can practice some basic skills very early in semester (as they read Hearing the Movies, chapter 1) while isolating that work from the complex narrative contexts of feature films. The pedagogical goal—making students aware of their learned viewing habits—is crucial to studying film music and sound productively.

Alas, much has happened since 2011, when that post was made. Specifically, three of the post's five video clips have been deleted from YouTube. Because of this unpredictability, I have rewritten the 2011 post here in generic form.

Task: describe different visual tracks as they relate to a single audio track (different performances of the same musical composition).

Goals: Make students aware of their learned viewing habits and provide early practice in describing sound in relation to image.

Justification: The format aids practice of some basic skills while isolating that work from the complex narrative contexts of feature films. The limits of the musical text make the sound track act as a control, against which to compare different collections of images. Tempo remains a variable in the audio track as well.

Procedure: Begin by playing a recording of the composition without any video track. Point out or discuss simple formal articulations, so that markers will be available to aid detailed analysis and discussion of the video examples.

Version no. 1: the static image.
These are of course very easy to construct. A portrait of the composer, an image of an appropriate ensemble, or reproduction of an LP or CD cover will do, all preferably with some black space surrounding the image. It is also not difficult to find videos like this on YouTube, undoubtedly because they require the least effort on the part of the person wanting to post a dub of a recording. 
Show without warning the class about the static image, as the goal is for students to be placed in the position where they pay attention to their attention. Once they guess that the image is probably not going to change, attention shifts away from it to the music. A point of discussion could be to relate the starkness of the background to the audiovisual sparseness of a video clip that is only music.
Version no. 2: a slide show of images.
Questions to consider: How are changes to a new image timed to the music track? Are music and image completely, partly, or not synchronized? What is the effect of any lack of synchronization @ important form articulations in the music? (If images had changed at those moments, the images would suddenly have seemed relatively "important", leading to speculation about reasons for that importance. Something similar happens when a slide is onscreen noticeably longer than others.) What kind of narrative content (or expectation for narrative continuity) is provoked by the slide show? (It is not important to come up with answers -- what is important is to notice the fact of imposing—or trying to impose—narrative continuity on the images.)
Version 3: a different slide show of images for comparison.
Here students should be free to consider questions of both intention and design and to evaluate. Is the second version better done, more effective, than the first, and if so, how is that achieved? Does either version show signs of a rhetorical goal (point of view that is being pushed)?
These are three of the five options I presented in the 2011 post; I discuss the other two here: link. Of course, the different tasks can be mixed and matched or selected as the needs of a class dictate. The three presented here "flip" the commutation test from Hearing the Movies, chapter 1, by making the music the same but changing the video track. This is undoubtedly a more primitive exercise than our study of different musics for the “temptation” scene in Psycho (pp. 30-33), but the ability to think of a specific piece (or passage) of music as the benchmark against which to examine changes in the image track is a skill that is routinely called on in more sophisticated analysis, as well.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Radio show music

I have posted to my Google Drive a PDF file titled "Tables of Contents for Radio Show Music Collections": link.

This file has complete TOCs for the following volumes of sheet music, several of which (those by Feibel and Gart) have been discussed in blog posts in recent weeks.
1. Fred Feibel. Comedy Cues. NY: Emil Ascher, 1943.
2. Fred Feibel. Modern Improvisations for Radio Shows. NY: Emil Ascher, 1939.
3. John Gart. At the Console: Organ Themes. NY: Emil Ascher, 1942.
4. John Gart. Network Themes: Music for Radio Shows. NY: Emil Ascher, 1942.
5. John Gart. Serial Moods: A Collection of 54 Dramatic Cues for Radio Shows. NY: Emil Ascher. 1946.
6. Louis Katzman and Milton Rettenberg. Bridges, Moods, Interludes: Original, Incidental and Background Music for Radio, Drama and Professional or Amateur Theatrical Productions. NY: Broadcast Music, 1943.
7. Lew White. Script Themes. NY: Emil Ascher, 1942.
Katzman and Rettenberg's volume is of interest because it reveals that traditional ideas of the compatibility of music in theatre and film remained strong at least into the 1940s. In Hearing the Movies we write that "it’s easy to forget that melodrama and serious dramatic stage plays in the late 1800s routinely had music, too. For example, one of the most familiar pieces of nineteenth-century concert music—the two Peer Gynt suites of Edvard Grieg—originated as incidental music for Ibsen’s play of that name" (Introduction to Part II, p. 89). In Katzman and Rettenberg's subtitle notice the easy linkage of "incidental" and "background."

The authors, as they assert in their Foreword, had worked in radio from its beginnings as a viable commercial entity in the 1920s, so that we can take seriously this statement about the flexibility needed in live musical performance: "It is obviously not necessary to adhere strictly to the indicated dynamics and tempi, since variations in treatment may add to the value of the music for individual scripts or scenes."

Friday, March 16, 2018

Theatre and radio organists: John Gart

John Gart (1905 Russia/Poland-1989  Florida) was a colleague of Fred Feibel's at CBS. Gart (whose name, incidentally, is sometimes misspelled as "Gant" or "Gait") began as a theatre organist, then became a conductor in Loew's New York theatre. At CBS, Gart was musical director, arranger, and conductor for radio shows, and then, like Feibel, moved to work in television in the late 1940s. He was closely associated with the Robert Montgomery Presents as musical director and organist through all 322 of its episodes (NBC, 1950-1957).

In the 1940s, Gart published at least three volumes of organ music for radio: At the Console: Organ Themes (NY: Emil Ascher, 1942); Network Themes: Music for Radio Shows (NY: Emil Ascher, 1942); and Serial Moods: A Collection of 54 Dramatic Cues for Radio Shows (NY: Emil Ascher, 1946).

The design of the three volumes is close to that of Feibel's discussed last week. Network Themes is interesting because its contents are arranged under topical headings. Here below are all of those headings. (The volume has 65 individual pieces.) Note the attention given to "Curtain" music, the wind up, or "play-off" as Feibel called it, that is so prominent in old radio shows.

APPASSIONATA
AGITATO
MYSTERIOSO
LIGHT MYSTERIOSO
MONTAGE MYSTERIOSO
LIGHT MONTAGE
DRAMATIC MONTAGE
DRAMATIC INTERLUDE
LIGHT DRAMATIC SEQUENCE
LIGHT TO DRAMA
LIGHT DRAMATIC
LIGHT DRAMATIC TO LIGHT NEUTRAL
DRAMATIC SEQUENCE
DRAMATIC LEADING TO HAPPY
HEAVY DRAMATIC
LIGHT NEUTRAL
NEUTRAL MELODIC
LIGHT HURRY
HURRY
LIGHT TO LOVE THEME
LOVE THEME
TRAIN EFFECT
FANFARE
POMPOSO
ORIENTAL
CURTAIN
CURTAIN FANFARE
LIGHT CURTAIN
LIGHT DRAMATIC CURTAIN
DRAMATIC CURTAIN
CURTAIN HURRY

Of interest are the transition headings, such as "Dramatic Leading to Happy." There is only piece, "Dawn," under that heading. Here it is (same conditions of copyright apply as with Feibel; see last week's post). Given the extreme compression of background music in radio shows, "leading" is less apt than "jumping" perhaps, as bar 3 moves to bar 4. Note that bar 3 deploys harmonic acceleration (chords change faster), pushing the music to "drop" into the strongly accented long chord in bar 4.


Much the same—but in reverse—is true of the one entry under "Light to Drama." The playful [scherzando] opening gives way to slower chord changes in bars 5-6 and then the dramatic fortissimo, marked "Broadly," follows.



Friday, March 9, 2018

Theatre and radio organists: Fred Feibel

Fred Feibel (1906-1978) was organist at the Paramount Theatre in New York City from 1928-1935, then staff organist for CBS Radio. In that capacity, he also created music for early CBS television shows, including episodes in Starlight Theatre (1950-1951).

In addition to sheet music arrangements and original compositions, Feibel published two volumes of music specifically for use in radio shows, which extended silent-film era music practices insofar as the shows were performed live. Modern Improvisations for Radio Shows (NY: Emil Ascher, 1939) is organized in the familiar arrangement of musical topics and functions: "Love Motifs," "Neutral Dramatic leading to Dramatic," "Agitato," "In a Rustic Setting," etc.,

Modern Improvisations also includes a category "Play-Off," short snippets of music to finish off the show, analogous to a film's "end credits" music. Here are the items in that section, nos. 86-100 in the volume:

86. No. 1 - "Neutral Conclusion" – p.46
87. No. 2 - "Tragic Result" – p.46
88. No. 3 - "Incidental Pause" – p.46
89. No. 4 - "Romantic Finis" – p.46
90. No. 5 -"Expiration" – p.46
91. No. 6 - "Outcome of Events" – p.47
92. No. 7 - "A Happy Ending– p.47
93. No. 8 -"Coda Modeme" – p.47
94. No. 9 - "Completion" – p.47
95. No. 10 - "Consumation" – p.47
96. No. 11 - "Dramatic Wind·up" – p.46
97. No. 12 - "Melodic Termination" – p.46
98. No. 13 - "Brief Appassionato" – p.46
99. No. 14 - "Emotional Finale" – p.46
100. No. 15 - "Dramatic Close" – p.46

And here are two examples:


(In case you're wondering, the volume was copyrighted by the publisher in the United States in 1939. That means the copyright would have to have been renewed no more than 28 years later. I found no record of it in U.S. Copyright Renewals 1950 - 1977, text available through Project Gutenberg, and therefore conclude that the music is in the public domain.)

Feibel's second volume of music is titled Comedy Cues (NY: Emil Ascher, 1943) and consists of 25 short compositions with titles like "Playful," "Sneaking," "Insignificant Fugue," and even "Fido on Holiday." Here are the final two entries:



Links:
Fred Feibel: from theatreorgans.com.
"Sounds of American Organs": also on theatreorgans.com. Audio from recordings, but also interesting photographs of instruments and theatres, including the Chicago Theatre and the Paramount Theatre, New York.

Footnote: The publisher, run by the founder's children as Emil Ascher Inc., later became a major player in stock music recordings for television, starting with Superman, "the first TV show to use Ascher music as its theme" (Billboard, 24 May 1969, "Ad Notes"). Their recordings were also used in "Hallmark Hall of Fame," soap operas such as "Love of Life" and "Edge of Night," and in commercials. By the time of Billboard's article the company was said to have "more than 300 hours on tap."


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Harmony series 4, The Uninvited and Stella by Starlight

Here is a suggestion for a project/assignment that a student with jazz background might undertake. Victor Young composed the standard "Stella by Starlight" for the film The Uninvited (Paramount, 1944). This theme is treated in a number of different ways in the film, and charting and analyzing them can lead productively to interpretation.

As part of the backstory:
What the student will immediately realize is that "Stella" is not a song—it's a piano composition that is often treated like a concerto. In fact, Young himself created a 5-minute piano concerto version and recorded it in 1945 for Decca, with whom he had a long-term contract. Even after lyrics were added by Ned Washington, a song version was published in 1946, and then recorded by several well-known singers, "Stella" didn't really catch on (it was always on the B-side of the record). It was after John Coltrane included it in an album that it really took off, but still mostly with jazz instrumentalists. The best known set of changes for "Stella" are by Miles Davis. An interesting part of the project might be to compare Young's original harmonies with Davis's version (hint, though: they're surprisingly similar).

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Changes in the Tags (Labels)

I have revised the blog's "Chapter" tags.

If you look at the right-hand side of the screen, below "Blog Archive," you'll find our long list of "Tags." Some of them identify topics ("film form", "leitmotif", "home studio"), others name films discussed (Glory, Prisoner of Zenda), name people ("Victor Herbert", "Katharine Hepburn"), or name institutions, things, and places ("theaters", "cue sheets", "Kinetophone", "Berlin").

Early in the blog's history we used a tag called "pedagogy" to call attention to material particularly suitable for classroom use. That tag is still in the list, but I have rewritten another set, "Chapters," to pinpoint information by chapter. The "1e-" tags refer to the first edition; "2e-" tags refer to the second edition.

Note: I did not attempt to label the large number of posts containing a variety of documentary materials. These are concentrated in the period from July 2009 to March 2010; they are relevant mainly to Chapters 4 and 5 (early film sound and music practices; the transition period). The tags "early cinema," "exhibition," "music for the picture," "source material," and "talking pictures" are efficient ways to get at certain aspects of this material.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Movie trailer assignment or project

In a post early last year (link) we drew attention to Frank Lehman's discussion of recent Star Wars trailers (link to his post on Musicology Now). I can't say that I am overly fond of comments threads in general, but the conversation in Frank's post is interesting and informative. James Deaville's subsequent post about trailers to Musicology Now is definitely also worth a look: link.

Between them, these materials could provide suitable background for a class assignment or a student paper project on film trailers. The trailer might make an interesting twist on the screening report (Chapter 6), for example, or on the compare-contrast paper assignment (Chapter 10).

Since trailers are now readily available for a wide range of films, both historical and contemporary, they could be incorporated almost anywhere in the chronological sequence from the classical period onward. Caution: in the transition period, what you will find labeled "trailer" online (even on the most respectable sites like Turner Classic Movies) is often just a clip of one of the film's song performances.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

On the Beach (1959)

On the Beach (MGM 1959; dir. Stanley Kramer; underscore by Ernest Gold) might be a good project for the general student—one who doesn't read music—because its music, both underscore and source, makes significant use of the familiar tune "Waltzing Matilda." Gold's treatment of it is very professional, varied, and creative—in addition to which its different aspects are quite accessible: no one can miss his extraordinary re-harmonizations or changes of instrumentation.

Some useful sources for information about the song and its history: Wikipedia articleTrishan's site [among most popular Australian sites about the song].

I have created a PDF file with a detailed set of music notes; access here on my Google Drive: link.

Students might also be intrigued by the very atypical roles played by the several leads—of them, only Gregory Peck is his usual upright, not that talkative but still vulnerable self. Ava Gardner and an aging Fred Astaire are the "town drunks," as she puts it. He is a scientist turned hobby race car driver. And Anthony Perkins (of Psycho fame) is a devoted husband and father, lieutenant in the navy.

After a short prologue without music, during which the submarine rises to the surface off Melbourne, Australia, the main titles give the first complete rendition of "Waltzing Matilda." Here is the version we hear during that scene:


Note that the alternate ending has the melody going up rather than down to end. That doesn't happen in the main title sequence. It happens in four later places and is associated with the relationship of Dwight (Gregory Peck) and Moira (Ava Gardner).  An interesting class activity might be to analyze why the final statement (within 30 seconds of the end of the film) is so immediately striking.

Another possibility is to try to label the style topics expressed in the several differing arrangements of "Matilda." Most should be obvious (for example, a whimsical march version for Dwight's first meeting with Moira (at 20:05)).

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Linda Shaver-Gleason on Beethoven’s Deafness

In recent days, we've recommended two essays posted to the publisher's blog The Avid Listener. Here is another: "Beethoven’s Deafness and the Myth of the Isolated Artist" by Linda Shaver-Gleason: link. Where the two previous recommendations offer material  very suitable for use in a class session, Shaver-Gleason's essay—both longer and more complex in its argument—might serve better as research material for a course paper. The two films Shaver-Gleason mentions at the beginning—Mr. Holland's Opus and The King's Speech—could form the basis for a compare and contrast paper (Hearing the Movies, second edition, chapter 10). Or, Shaver-Gleason's overall argument about inaccuracies in the common understanding of Beethoven's hearing in later life as they relate to ideas (myths) about the isolated artist could very well be folded into the final critical paper (Chapter 15).

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Reba Wissner on Hearing the Unseen

On The Avid Listener (W. W. Norton's in-house blog), Reba A. Wissner writes about "Hearing with Your Eyes: Science Fiction Television and Hearing the Unseen": link. Her video examples include a spooky scene from 19th century composer Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischütz and three scenes from TV sci-fi shows (The Invaders, The Outer Limits, and The Twilight Zone).

Although she doesn't use the term, Wissner is writing about what Michel Chion calls the acousmêtre, an unseen agent "embodied" by sound (Hearing the Movies, second edition, pages 74-75), but she also discusses actions (physical attacks) carried out by these agents and also not presented onscreen (Hearing the Movies, chapter 3, describes and illustrates a number of types of offscreen sound).

As with Jonathan Godsall's Avid Listener post that we recommended a few days ago (link), Wissner's post has discussion questions at the end. These, however, assume fairly substantial student knowledge of television repertoires. One might complement or substitute for those questions an exercise that compares/contrasts techniques and effects in the TV clips with those in a feature film scene, perhaps from one of the films mentioned in Chapter 3, one of the versions of The Invisible Man, or even a teen horror flick (some films in that genre have achieved a kind of cult status and might well be familiar to many undergraduates; your current writer has found that students may seem a little embarrassed about their own knowledge of this repertoire, but one has only to ask and they will quickly come up with titles and also be enthusiastic about the chance to make presentations to the class).

Friday, February 2, 2018

More to the Film Score Guide series; course papers

At the bottom of this post is yesterday's list of the 19 volumes in the Film Score Guide monograph series, arranged in reverse chronological order of the film's general release. A checkmark (√) at the beginning of an entry indicates that the film is discussed or mentioned in Hearing the Movies, second edition.

If a course based on the book includes a final paper developed incrementally across the semester, it will follow logically through the work suggested in Chapters 6, 8, 10, 12, and 15. Recall that Chapters 6 and 8 explore the writing of scene analyses and the short papers we called “screening reports." The final sections of Chapters 10 and 12 focus, respectively, on a compare and contrast exercise and the building of a historical argument. In Chapter 15, the several earlier elements contribute to grounding a critical essay whose objective is to draw the sound track and music into a thematic reading, especially a reading that shows how these elements support or resist the dominant directions or emphases of the narrative. [The preceding text, btw, is a compressed and edited version of the opening paragraph of Chapter 15, page 509.]

One possibility— workable only with a small class, to be sure —would be to assign each student one of the films covered in the Film Score Guide series. Thus, reliable background and other basic information about the music and underscore composer would be readily available, and for the final paper (the work of Chapter 15) the student might well find material that would lead to supporting or challenging the arguments or point of view of the volume's author.

  • 2008
  • √18. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's The Dark Knight. May 2, 2016. Vasco Hexel
  • 2007
  • 15. Ilan Eshkeri's Stardust. IAN SAPIRO. July 2013
  • 2000
  • 17. James Newton Howard's Signs. January 14, 2016. Erik Heine
  • 1997
  • √9. Mychael Danna's The Ice Storm. MIGUEL MERA. June 2007
  • 1996
  • 7. Gabriel Yared's The English Patient. HEATHER LAING. February 2007
  • 1993-94
  • √12. Zbigniew Preisner's Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, Red. NICHOLAS W. REYLAND. December 2011
  • 1989
  • √4. Danny Elfman's Batman. JANET K. HALFYARD. September 2004
  • 1974
  • 16. David Shire's The Conversation. October 8, 2015. Juan Chattah
  • 1972 ff.
  • √11. Nino Rota's The Godfather Trilogy. FRANCO SCIANNAMEO. October 2010
  • 1966
  • √3. Ennio Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. CHARLES LEINBERGER. September 2004
  • 1960
  • √19. Elmer Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven. May 31, 2017. Mariana Whitmer
  • 1959
  • √12. Miklós Rózsa's Ben-Hur. ROGER HICKMAN. March 2011
  • 1958
  • √13. Jerome Moross's The Big Country. MARIANA WHITMER. June 2012
  • 2. Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo: A Film Score Handbook. Feb 28, 2001. David Cooper
  • 1956
  • 5. Louis and Bebe Barron's Forbidden Planet. JAMES WIERZBICKI. June 2005
  • 1954
  • 14. Leonard Bernstein's On the Waterfront. ANTHONY BUSHARD. December 2012
  • 1951
  • √10. Alex North's A Streetcar Named Desire. ANNETTE DAVISON. February 2009
  • 1947
  • 6. Bernard Herrmann's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. DAVID COOPER. August 2005
  • 1942
  • √1. Max Steiner's Now, Voyager: A Film Score Guide. Jul 30, 2000. Kate Daubney
  • 1940
  • √11. Franz Waxman's Rebecca. DAVID NEUMEYER AND NATHAN PLATTE. December 2011
  • 1938
  • √8. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Adventures of Robin Hood. BEN WINTERS. March 2007

Thursday, February 1, 2018

New books (2017)

1. Contemporary Film Music: Investigating Cinema Narratives and Composition (MacMillan Palgrave, 2017)  is a new anthology edited by Lindsay Coleman and Joakim Tillman. Its unique format pairs a chapter that is an interview with a composer with a second by a scholar analyzing "a particular feature of the composer’s approach or style." The composers are A.R. Rahman, Zbigniew Preisner, Carter Burwell, Rachel Portman, Dario Marianelli, Mychael Danna, and John Williams.

The interviews will always be of interest to students and of course could provide some background information or back story for papers or for class use. The analysis chapters vary considerably in the level of musical or film-critical knowledge required, but some may be accessible to most students.

2. The 19th entry in the Film Score Guide series is also the second by Mariana Whitmer: Elmer Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven: A Film Score Guide (2017). The volumes in the series have a set format: five chapters covering in turn the composer's background and training, his or her compositional and stylistic approach, the context of the film, music production, and scene analysis. Although each is focused on a single film, the guides thus offer a wide range of information about composers, films, and film scoring practices, the great majority of it easily accessible to the general undergraduate (the exceptions, of course, being some of the detailed scene analyses).

Whitmer's volume is also the last in the series. As of the day of this posting, you can read the series editor Kate Daubney's valedictory preface through Amazon's "Look inside" feature: link to the book page on Amazon. Here is the publisher's page for the Film Score Guide series: link.

Below is a complete list of the 19 volumes.
  • ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD
  • 19. Elmer Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven. May 31, 2017. Mariana Whitmer
  • 18. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's The Dark Knight. May 2, 2016. Vasco Hexel
  • 17. James Newton Howard's Signs. January 14, 2016. Erik Heine
  • 16. David Shire's The Conversation. October 8, 2015. Juan Chattah

  • SCARECROW PRESS
  • 15. Ilan Eshkeri's Stardust. IAN SAPIRO. July 2013
  • 14. Leonard Bernstein's On the Waterfront. ANTHONY BUSHARD. December 2012
  • 13. Jerome Moross's The Big Country. MARIANA WHITMER. June 2012
  • 12. Zbigniew Preisner's Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, Red. NICHOLAS W. REYLAND. December 2011
  • 11. Franz Waxman's Rebecca. DAVID NEUMEYER AND NATHAN PLATTE. December 2011
  • 12. Miklós Rózsa's Ben-Hur. ROGER HICKMAN. March 2011
  • 11. Nino Rota's The Godfather Trilogy. FRANCO SCIANNAMEO. October 2010
  • 10. Alex North's A Streetcar Named Desire. ANNETTE DAVISON. February 2009
  • 9. Mychael Danna's The Ice Storm. MIGUEL MERA. June 2007
  • 8. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Adventures of Robin Hood. BEN WINTERS. March 2007
  • 7. Gabriel Yared's The English Patient. HEATHER LAING. February 2007
  • 6. Bernard Herrmann's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. DAVID COOPER. August 2005
  • 5. Louis and Bebe Barron's Forbidden Planet. JAMES WIERZBICKI. June 2005
  • 4. Danny Elfman's Batman. JANET K. HALFYARD. September 2004
  • 3. Ennio Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. CHARLES LEINBERGER. September 2004

  • GREENWOOD PRESS
  • 2. Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo: A Film Score Handbook. Feb 28, 2001. David Cooper
  • 1. Max Steiner's Now, Voyager: A Film Score Guide. Jul 30, 2000. Kate Daubney








Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Jonathan Godsall on pre-existing music

Jonathan Godsall has written a very good blog post for The Avid Listener (a publisher's blog from W. W. Norton). Link to "Listening to Beethoven in and through The King’s Speech" (2010). Godsall focuses on the use of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, second movement, for the film's climactic scene. Compact and accessible, the post has film and music clips. It even has questions at the end.

All in all, the post as it stands would make an excellent lesson plan, and might be used as early as Chapter 1 in connection with the commutation test (pp. 30-33). Godsall's second discussion question, in fact, is "Can you think of another real or hypothetical use of pre-existing music that might be considered inappropriate? What are the arguments for and against this?"

Link to a complete list of "Music and Media" posts to The Avid Listener.