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, is based largely on 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].

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 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. Here are the places:

  • 36:00 (approx.) end of the evening party; Ava Gardner's character sleeps
  • 112:00 soloist singing offscreen (non-diegetic?)
  • 113:00 "you can't read my note"
  • 134:00 ending

"Waltzing Matilda" is heard several other times. An interesting class assignment might be to analyze why the alternate ending is used in those particular places and the original version elsewhere. Hint: the ending is by far the most immediately striking; the class might begin from there and work backwards into the earlier scenes in the film.

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.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Harmony series 3, triad pairs

Scott Murphy has published four thorough and insightful articles on film music composition and expression. (See the list at the end of this post.) In one of those articles, a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies, he examines pairs of major and minor triads and documents their appearance and functions in recent film underscores. (By recent, I mean mainly post-1980.)

You'll need strong music theory knowledge to read and understand everything in Murphy's four articles. To see what they're like, you might start with the last one in the list below, as it's easily accessible through the journal Music Theory Online (link).

On the other hand, the effects of harmony that he talks about are easy to hear in the films he discusses.

The "triad pairs" that are presented in Murphy 2014a are abstract categories representing every possible pairing of major and minor triads. Here is a simple example: M2m in his notation is a major triad -- like C major in the examples below -- followed by a minor triad (D minor here) whose root is two half-steps higher (C to C# is one step, then C# to D is the second step). The effects created by use of any triad pair vary widely, of course. At (a) a relatively brief minor triad is tucked in-between two major triads, an incidental effect or neighbor chord. At (b) the two chords are equal in length, but there is a definite element of contrast, as the upper voices and bass move in opposite directions, following the requirements of older tonal voice-leading rules. At (c), on the other hand, the chords are spread out -- we hear more of each one -- and all the voices move in the same direction. Finally, at (d), we hear C first, then the chords are mingled and we either hear them as layered or as a complex chord over the C bass (it would be a C13 chord with a diatonic 11), then the C chord layer disappears.



Reference: articles by Scott Murphy on film music:
1. Murphy, Scott. 2014b. “Scoring Loss in Some Recent Popular Film and Television.” Music Theory Spectrum 36(2): 295-314.
2. Murphy, Scott. 2014a. “Transformational Theory and the Analysis of Film Music.” In The Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies, edited by David Neumeyer, pp. 471-499. New York: Oxford University Press.
3. Murphy, Scott. 2012. “The Tritone Within: Interpreting Harmony in Elliot Goldenthal's Score for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.” In The Music of Fantasy Cinema, edited by Janet K. Halfyard, pp. 148-174London: Equinox, 2012.
4. Murphy, Scott. 2006. “The Major Tritone Progression in Recent Hollywood Science Fiction Films.” Music Theory Online 12(2). link.