Chapter 8 suggestions


Compare the traditional orchestral underscoring of The Big Heat (1953) with the strongly jazz inflected music in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) -- the easiest way to do this is with the main title sequences. Also study the treatment of the diegetic music (Chet Hamilton and group play several times through the film—note especially the simple move from the diegetic to the non-diegetic register in a scene about ten minutes from the end, when Cornel Wilde leaves the club and walks out on a bridge overlooking it). For a more subtle study, compare Mischa Bakaleinikoff's score for The Big Heat with Franz Waxman's score for Sunset Boulevard or (a quite different comparison) with Miklos Rozsa's music for Double Indemnity. With respect to jazz-imitative underscoring in the 1950s, films often cited for this include A Streetcar Named Desire, Man with the Golden Arm, The Waterfront, and The Subterraneans, among others. Bernard Herrmann's attempt to write a jazz-inflected score for The Taxi Driver (1973) is notably less successful. Students with more advanced knowledge of jazz might want to analyze music in films that include background scoring written by jazz musicians rather than film composers influenced by jazz, such as Anatomy of a Murder, 'Round Midnight, Bird, Kansas City, Mo' Better Blues, Mambo Kings, and perhaps earlier films such as The Glenn Miller Story and Cabin in the Sky. You might also look at individual sequences in classical musicals: An intentionally stereotyped use of jazz to signify the seedy world of crime can be found in “The Girl Hunt Ballet” from The Band Wagon. A similar, albeit shorter treatment occurs in the casino sequence of the “Broadway Rhythm” ballet from Singin’ in the Rain.


Watch Yojimbo or Sanjuro (films by Akira Kurosawa) and consider the effect of the stylistic anachronisms in Masaru Sato’s percussion-driven music, which combines traditional Japanese instruments (or modern instruments’ imitations of ancient instruments) and rhythms that are aggressive and often jazzy. (Also, compare the "jazzy" quality of this score with the roughly contemporary Sweet Smell of Success.)


The music for Laura (1944) is usually called "monothematic," because of the overwhelming impact of its famous melody, which quickly became a standard. This theme appears in a number of different guises in the film. (a) Chart the appearances, try to describe each, and consider how the variants are fashioned to fit the narrative moment. (b) In fact, Laura is not monothematic—there is at least one other theme, associated with Inspector McPherson (Dana Andrews) or, more generally, with the mystery he is investigating. Chart the treatment of this rather subdued theme (which you can hear at the beginning of the Apartment Scene). A general question to ask about all the musical materials: how do they differ on either side of the film's great formal juncture point (Laura's unexpected reappearance)?


Gandhi (1985): Western or European style music and classical Indian music are kept quite separate in this film. Speculate on the reasons why the former is kept in the diegetic register but the latter is non-diegetic and in what ways the particular musical styles chosen are used to characterize not only groups but also, on occasion, individuals.


Darby & DuBois's American Film Music (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 1990) has a large number of short descriptions of classical Hollywood film scores, many of them in terms of the treatment of themes in relation to narrative. Choose one of the 2-3 page descriptions, watch the film, and evaluate their analysis.

After watching and studying one or more classical films that make use of the "leitmotif" idea, or the uses of themes and their recurrence and variation, watch any recent film (at least since 2000) to judge whether and to what extent the technique has survived.


(Musical styles)   Watch Yojimbo or Sanjuro (films by Akira Kurosawa) and consider the effect of the stylistic anachronisms in Masaru Sato’s percussion-driven music, which combines traditional Japanese instruments (or modern instruments’ imitations of ancient instruments) and rhythms that are aggressive and often jazzy. (Also, compare the "jazzy" quality of this score with the roughly contemporary Sweet Smell of Success.) 

(Musical styles)  Wild Strawberries (1957): the melody heard in the main title sequence is the only significant theme in the film (although there are recurring musical effects of harp and drum associated with the protagonist's dreams). For students who know J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, the theme is developed from the subject of the Fugue in D# minor in volume 1: the subject-answer pair is played by one of the characters during Isak Borg's third dream (at about 58:00). 


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