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When I was young and would go to the movies with my parents and other family members, I would often come out after the show and make some comment on the music I heard in the film. "What music?" would generally be the reaction. A girlfriend was less kind as we walked out of Psycho: "Only you would sit and listen to the music," she growled. Well, I didn't just listen to the music while I was watching Psycho. But it is true that I have had a lifelong fascination with film music, and this book marks the culmination, if not the end, of that fascination. It is also true that almost all casual movie goers and many noncasual film watchers pay little or no attention to the music behind the films they see and sometimes analyze. I would be tempted to suggest that this deafness to the film score justifies an attitude on the part of commercial filmmakers that film music should be "seen" and not heard. But, in fact, film music as it generally functions is intended to be neither heard nor "seen." Music by and large remains one of the two most "invisible" contributing arts to the cinema. The other is montage.
In writing this book, then, I am inviting readers not simply to hear the film score but to seeit, not simply to become aware of the presence of music "behind the screen" but to scrutinize its interactions with the other arts that contribute to the cinema. Numerous studies—scholarly, nonscholarly, and in between—have explained how film music works, and have critiqued the film industry for its cavalier treatment of composers, not to mention its Philistine attitudes towards and understanding of music. Going beyond this, Claudia Gorbman, in her Unheard Melodies, has done for the film score what many nonfilm-music studies have done for other areas of the commercial cinema by offering a sociopolitical reading of how a Max Steiner score (for MichaelCurtiz's 1945 Mildred Pierce) manipulatively hyperexplicates the action of the film for which it was composed. In the first chapter of the present study I likewise examine many of the sociopolitical implications of the film score, and in a way that tends to cast at least a partially negative light on the whole film/music situation. The second and third chapters present a fairly uninterpretive survey of the technological and historical underpinnings of the film score. It is no accident that directors such as Eisenstein, Hitchcock, and Godard have attracted the bulk of the attention from writers on film, since artists such as these are the ones who, in one way or the other, have broken down the various codes that have trapped lesser filmmakers (and their composers) in a vicious circle of triviality. Thus it should come as no surprise that films by Eisenstein, Hitchcock, and Godard, along with their scores, have occupied a good deal of my attention, although I have also examined a number of other less-scrutinized, but in my opinion significant endeavors as well, whether several-instance collaborations such as Robert Altman/John Williams, or a major partnership such as Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone.
And so, from chapter 4 through chapter 8, I zero in on a number of examples of the best that the film/music interaction has to offer, presenting highly interpretive, deep (I hope) readings that depend on a close analysis of the film/music interactions, whence the title of this book. In certain instances, such as Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, the actual score (in this case by Dimitri Tiomkin) plays a subordinate role to the manners in which the director has manipulated parts of the music. Because of this orientation toward rich film/music interactions, certain film scores considered a milestone, such as Miklss Rszsa's Oscar-winning music for William Wyler's 1959 Ben-Hur, have been entirely passed over in the main text of my study. I have to say that, from my perspective, Wyler's film will remain an insignificant footnote in cinema history, whereas the whole of Rszsa's score for Ben-Hur does not offer the interest of the ten or fifteen seconds of music that form the "transition theme" in Billy Wilder's 1944 Double Indemnity. This does not mean that I have chosen only major works of cinema with no regard for the quality of their music, although this is indeed the case with Altman's Nashville and its spate of mostly mediocre country-western songs. The works that I find to be high points in this book generally have that status because of the quality of both their film making and their music.
Because of the ways in which books on film are currently classified, this study will probably end up in the music section of most libraries. It is not, however, intended primarily as a book on music, and it does not presuppose any major, technical knowledge of music on the part of the reader. Nonetheless, just as various technical elements such as editing and photographic composition play a significant role in how we "read" a cinematic text, certain tools of the composer's trade cannot be ignored when considering film/musicinteractions. I therefore offer the following brief summary of some of the elements of the musical art, in particular western music's harmonic language, which turn up in my discussions in this book. Some of the more structural elements of music, both classical and popular, are examined in chapter 2.Tonality
The bulk of all music—jazz, popular, folk, classical, or whatever—composed and/or performed in the West can be labeled as tonal. Simply stated, this means that a given piece centers around a particular single tone or note that exists as both a point of departure and a point of return. Even here, there are various non-Western ways in which music can be tonal. In the performance of a raga in Indian music, for instance, an instrument called the tambura drones on continually with a single note throughout the entire performance, which can last an hour or more. One of the gimmicks of Western tonality, by comparison, is to constantly move away from its tonal center in ways that cause the listener to anticipate the return, sooner or later, of that tonal center. Psychologically and aesthetically speaking, tonality sets up a certain order, creates a sense of loss and anxiety in its various departures from that order, and then reassures the listener by periodically returning to that order, which will generally have the final word. Western tonality, then, involves a) one of the myriad ways in which the gamut of musical tones, from the lowest to the highest theoretically audible, can be divided up; b) the dividing up of a given tone-block into twelve equally spaced tones (half steps, or half tones), that form the chromatic scale, which repeats at either a higher or a lower pitch level after each twelfth note; c) the hierarchical valorization of these twelve tones through the formation of a seven-note series whose individual tones are labeled, in English, with letters from A to G. This series skips over five of the half steps to produce a scale of five whole tones and two half tones that repeats at either a higher or a lower pitch level after each seventh note. A scale can be formed using any of the basic twelve notes as the point of departure to create the key for a given work of music. The degree to which a given work or segment of music remains within the seven-tone scale is the degree to which it is harmonically diatonic; the degree to which it allows the other five notes, which are labeled as either sharps or flats, to creep into the harmonic structure is the degree to which it is harmonically chromatic. The harmonic style of a score such as Korngold's The Sea Hawk, for instance, tends to be more heavily chromatic than the harmonic style of Newman's Wuthering Heights. The sense of almost eternal anticipation one has in listening to heavily chromatic music, such as certain passagesin Wagner, comes from delaying the return to the tonal center for so long that its eventual return, although always potential, loses much of its meaning. What I have labeled as the "romantic theme" in the score to The Sea Hawk (see chapter 5) offers a perfect example of a melodic line treated in a highly chromatic manner. I cannot stress strongly enough that Western music's seven-note/five-note, hierarchical parceling of tones represents only one of a multitude of possibilities. The music of certain cultures, for instance, is based on a so-called pentatonic (five-tone) scale that includes no half tones. It is also possible to go between the half tones to produce various microtones, one of the most common of which is the quarter tone, which can be found not only in the scales of certain ancient and non-Western cultures but which have been deployed by certain contemporary composers as well.
The distance between notes is referred to as an interval. An interval can be considered either in a horizontal sense in the succession of two notes—C skipping to G, for instance—or in a vertical sense, in which case the two notes form what is commonly referred to as an open interval. Three notes or more played simultaneously form a chord, the most common of which is the three-note triad. Seventh chords, which I refer to often in this study, generally have four notes. Within the seven-note scale in the key of C, for instance, there are certain strong intervals, such as the third (CE, for instance), fourth (CF, for instance), fifth (CG, for instance), and sixth (CA, for instance), whose presence tends to reinforce the tonal center of a given work of music, and certain weak intervals, in particular the seventh, that demand resolution back towards the tonal center. One of the many gimmicks of traditional film scoring involves the lack of resolution within a cue whose harmonic language is nonetheless tonal. The title sequence for The Sea Hawk, for example, acts as a kind of overture forming an entity unto itself; yet at the end it does not return to the home (tonic) key (B-flat major in this case) but rather modulates—changes tonal center—to the key (F minor) of the ensuing cue, pausing in the high strings on the tonic note (F) of that key in lieu of providing the overture with a sense of harmonic closure. Even when the title sequence of a given film does not segue into a new musical cue, it very often ends unresolved. The overture to Bernard Herrmann's score for Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 North by Northwest, for instance, closes at the end of the titles in the film suspended on a seventh chord, even though the written score adds a two-note cadence, heard on most recordings, that brings the music back to its home key of A. Cues within a given film likewise often end on unresolved suspensions (at best) until the very end of the film. In this type of practice film music exploits the anticipation of closure built into the tonal harmonic system by frustrating that anticipation in order to carry the viewer/listener into the ongoing movement forward of the narrative flow. One of the ways inwhich French director Alain Robbe-Grillet both subverts and mocks the existing cinematic systems is by inserting obvious cadence chords from solidly tonal music (in particular Verdi) arbitrarily into an already fractionalized narrative.For the end titles of Le Jeu avec le feu (1975), frequent Robbe-Grillet collaborator Michel Fano "composed" a collage of the cadence chords that close Il Trovatore 's various scenes! The way in which Bernard Herrmann was able to divert the "active expectation" built into the tonal system into the visual/narrative structure of certain Hitchcock films will be explored in chapter 6.
Leonard B. Meyer, in Emotion and Meaning in Music, one of the most important of all studies on musical aesthetics, defines "active expectation" as follows:
Although the consequent in any musical sequence must be possible, it may nevertheless be unexpected. But the unexpected should not be confused with the surprising. For when expectation is aroused, the unexpected is always considered to be a possibility, and, though it remains the less expected of several alternatives, it is not a complete surprise. Conditions of active expectation (especially general expectation and suspense) are not the most favorable to surprise. For the listener is on guard, anticipating a new and possibly unexpected consequent. Surprise is most intense where no special expectation is active, where, because there has been no inhibition of a tendency, continuity is expected.1
Tonal music obviously depends much more on active expectation than on surprise. It might also be noted that the aesthetic concept of active expectation can be applied as well to the other arts, and in particular to a temporally elaborated one such as the cinema. Hitchcock's theory of suspense, which involves the viewer knowing that, if not when and how, something horrible is going to happen, definitely involves active expectation.
Another extraordinarily important element of tonality constantly exploited by film music is the major mode-minor mode dialectic. Although various modes other than the diatonic scale (which often take the form of other seven-note configurations that repeat above or below on the eighth note) frequently creep into Western tonal music, the one that gets by far the greatest use is the so-called minor mode. While the major-mode scale moves through two whole steps before arriving at its first half step, the minor-mode scale moves through only a single whole step before introducing its first half step, thus creating the all-important minor-mode interval of the minor third; and where the step from the fifth to the sixth note in the major mode is whole, that step is half in the minor-mode scale. Schematically, the difference between the major and minor modes can be drawn out as follows:
(It should be noted that the minor-mode scale described above is the so-called harmonic minor scale, which I have used because it best reflects harmonic practices within the minor mode, which rely not only on the minor third but on the minor sixth as well.) Both the major and the harmonic minor modes, it should be noted, have the seventh note lead, via the unstable half step, back into the first note of the scale an octave higher. The seventh note used in this fashion is thus often referred to as the leading tone.
For whatever reasons, in the West tonal music in the minor mode tends to evoke the darker, or at the very least the more serious, side of human emotions. Whereas numerous theories propose that this association between the minor mode and the less optimistic gamut of affectivity is a wholly learned response that Western composers have exploited, Meyer makes a cogent argument for deeper roots in this response. Basing his reasoning on the use of the minor mode in modern, Western tonality and not on earlier modes that simply incorporate the minor third, Meyer notes that
From a harmonic point of view, the minor mode is both more ambiguous and less stable than the major mode. It is more ambiguous because the repertory of possible vertical combinations is much greater in minor than in major and, consequently, the probability of any particular progression of harmonies is smaller.2
In other words, the major mode, by offering fewer potential directions within active anticipation, ties in with a greater sense of stability and order, which are very much a part of the modern Western ethos, than the innately more chromatic (i.e. moving more naturally to the tones outside the initial seven) minor mode. Certainly, the optimistic heroism of a film such as The Sea Hawk is musically generated in part by dominance of the major mode in its various cues, making the appearance of the minor mode in such music as the galley theme and the dirge modification of the romantic theme all the more dramatic, as we shall see in chapter 5. Another classic example can be found in Miklss Rszsa's music for Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 Spellbound. A close examination of the popular love theme and the suspense theme reveals a remarkable similarity between the two, particularly in their rhythmic structure. What makes us feel that Gregory Peck is going to embrace Ingrid Bergman when we hear the love theme is the solid major mode in which it is written, not to mention the heavy use of string instruments that usually present it. What makes us feel that Peck is going to slit Bergman's throat ("Will he kiss me or kill me?" ask some of Spellbound 's original posters) when we hear the suspense theme is not only the minor mode of its harmonic setting but also the more chromatic structure of its melodic writing. This, combined with the bizarre, electronic timbres of the theremin, takes us solidly out of the world of tonal order evoked by the love theme. The interrelatedness of the two themes, however, also suggests that love and madness are two sides of the same coin. To this day, composers of film music continue to exploit the emotional implications of the major/minor dialectic, no matter how modern their style, as long as it is based in tonality.
The use of dissonance is yet another device that exploits musically generated feelings such as order and disorder, stability and instability. One aesthetician offers the following perception of the difficultly defined phenomenon of consonance and dissonance:
In musical harmony the critical determinant of consonance and dissonance is expectation of movement. A consonant interval is one which sounds stable and complete in itself, which does not produce a feeling of necessary movement to other tones. A dissonant interval causes a restless expectation of resolution, or movement to a consonant interval. Context is the determining factor.3
Again, the debate rages as to whether listener reaction to dissonance has deeper roots than those of a learned response. In Western tonality, the strongest consonant intervals tend to be the third, the sixth, and the octave. The fourth and the fifth, while pillars of tonal stability, tend to go either way, often depending upon whether they are heard as open (more dissonant) or in combinations with other notes. The second and the seventh are the least stable intervals within the scale, whereas the accidental intervals of the minor second and the so-called tritone tend to be the most dissonant intervals of all. Interestingly, the tritone (the half step between the fourth and the fifth in any scale, major or minor) creates much of its dissonant effect by providing symmetry: dividing the scale into two equal halves, the tritone more or less floats freely, defying resolution precisely because it sits outside the unequal, hierarchical divisions of the tonal scale. Tonality, in other words, creates its sense of stability by exploiting hierarchically weaker intervals that the listener feels must resolve.
In The Sea Hawk, two examples of dissonance come immediately to mind. When we first see Captain Thorpe's ship, for instance, the camera passes by a small monkey in the riggings. At this point we hear a theme for the monkey juxtaposed over the ongoing shipboard music. One thing that makes thetheme stand out, over and above the piccolo in the instrumentation, is that it is written in a whole-tone scale, that is a scale with no half-tone intervals at all, and therefore exists outside the laws of normal, tonal resolution. The dissonant opposition between the whole-tone monkey music and the tonal shipboard music puts the monkey's theme into greater relief while also, on a deeper level, setting the monkey in particular and the animal world in general against the particular order of western humans as encoded into their musical tonality. When Captain Thorpe (Errol Flynn) and his lady love, Doqa Maria (Brenda Marshall), are having an above/below shipboard conversation, the setting of Maria's theme includes dissonant notes that give it a slightly bitonal cast (simultaneously juxtaposing intervals from two different tonalities), no doubt to suggest the enmity that the Spanish noblewoman bears at the moment towards her British captor/rescuer. In general, dissonance often gets used in film music, much the way the minor mode does, to create affective backing for more ominous situations. Lalo Schifrin, in the interview at the end of this book, gives examples of how he would move from consonance to dissonance as the cinematic situation grew more dire and from dissonance to consonance as the situation brightened, also making a strong claim for the durability of tonal music. And we will see in subsequent chapters just how dissonance and lack of resolution work in different ways in such scores as Rszsa's Double Indemnity and Herrmann's Hitchcock scores. But even the most dissonant film scores rarely venture too far from tonality. Only a handful have reached into such areas as atonality, in which each of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale is treated equally, rather than being submitted to a hierarchical structure.4 It should also be noted that an examination similar to the one above could be made of traditional practices in such areas as rhythm and instrumentation.Myth
I have used the terms "myth" and "mythic" quite often in this study, even to the point of bringing in the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche at the end of chapter 1 somewhat against my better judgment. Although I have tried to specify what I mean by myth and mythic within the contexts of the specific discussions, it is no doubt appropriate to set up certain parameters from the outset. I should point out right away that I cannot offer any one set definition of what I mean by myth, and I wholly admit that I have used the concept in different ways at different points in the book, sometimes within the same chapter. One thing that all of my uses of the concept of myth have in common, however, is the element of the paradigmatic. In other words, the degree to which a given character, object, or situation escapes from the moment oftime and piece of space in which he/she/it appears in a given narrative (keeping in mind that mythos = story) to link with other characters, objects, and situations from other narratives, and the degree to which that character, object, and/or event escapes from a causal or historical determination of that moment of time and piece of space, is the degree to which that moment in the narrative becomes mythic. Perhaps the key figure in the paradigmatic study of myth is anthropologist/theoretician Claude Livi-Strauss.5
I also find extremely useful an article by Russian semiotician Jurij Lotman entitled "The Origin of Plot in the Light of Typology."6 In this key study, Lotman examines the differences between the mythic text and what he refers to as the "plot text." Noting that there is "a textual mechanism for engendering myths," Lotman goes on to point out that "the chief particularity of the texts it creates is their subjection to cyclical-temporal motion." Lotman suggests that the "first characteristic" of this type of text is "the absence of the categories of beginning and end: the text is thought of as a mechanism which constantly repeats itself, synchronized with the cyclical processes of nature: the seasons of the year, the hours of the day, the astral calendar. Human life is regarded not as a linear segment enclosed between birth and death, but as a constantly recurrent cycle. Another peculiarity linked to cyclical structure," notes Lotman, "is the tendency to make different characters unconditionally identical. Characters and objects mentioned at different levels of the cyclical mythological mechanism are different proper names for the same thing." The plot text, on the other hand, involves "the fixing of unique and chance events, crimes, calamities. It is not fortuitous," says Lotman, "that the elementary basis of artistic narrative genres is called the 'novella,' that is to say the 'piece of news,' and that it has a basis in anecdote."7
It goes without saying that "the modern plot-text is the fruit of the interaction and reciprocal influence of these two typologically age-old types of text."8 In any given narrative, or plot text, one can discern vestigial elements such as the doublings examined by Lotman in his analysis of Shakespeare's As You Like It which lead the reader and/or viewer back towards a more mythic perception of the text. I would suggest that in a narrative text mythic moments alternate with nonmythic moments in a manner similar to T. S. Eliot's perception of the function of "beautiful words" in poetry:
Not all words, obviously, are equally rich and well-connected: it is part of the business of the poet to dispose the richer among the poorer, at the right points, and we cannot afford to load a poem too heavily with the former—for it is only at certain moments that a word can be made to insinuate the whole history of a language and a civilization.9
And I would maintain that over and beyond the technical elements of a given art that produce aesthetic pleasure, such as the aspects of tonality in musicdiscussed by Meyer, the unconscious and/or conscious perception of mythic moments, patterns, and structures in a given narrative is one of the greatest producers of aesthetic fulfillment. Composer John Williams and director Steven Spielberg provide, no doubt unwittingly, a wonderfully ironic commentary on this type of alternation in the 1975 Jaws, in which the presence of the great white shark is forever announced and accompanied by Williams's ominous, two-note motif. Yet in the sequence where a pair of boys create general panic with a phony shark fin, the music track remains silent, unconsciously cuing in the audience that this is not a mythic moment. In the "Overture" to his The Raw and the Cooked, to which I refer several times in this book, Livi-Strauss suggests that music, with its reprises, its cyclism(s), and the sense of unity it communicates, presents mythic structure in an almost pure state. (For a simple piece that presents its reprises, cyclisms, and unity in a particularly transparent way, I would recommend Schubert's Impromptu in C Minor, op. 90, no. 1.) From this point of view it could be argued that the very presence of music "behind the screen" of any film automatically evokes a mythic mode of perception. Going beyond this much too general perception, however, we can see how the association of given characters and narrative situations with particular musical themes or motifs would help create an intraparadigmatic structure for a given filmic narrative, whereas the use of certain musical typologies, such as the waltz rhythm to suggest love, can imply extratextual paradigms.
On a much different level, there is also what I refer to in chapter 1 as "cultural" or "bourgeois" myth, which tends to collapse all of the paradigmatic implications of a given sign into a single symbol that can—or at least is supposed to—be "read" in only a single way. Not only does such a collapse tend to produce an "unhealthy" sign—a sign, according to Barthes, that does not draw attention to its own arbitrariness—it also tends to encourage passivity in the reader, viewer, or listener. In discussing Barthes, one writer has noted that "ideology, in this sense, is a kind of contemporary mythology, a realm which has purged itself of ambiguity and alternative possibility."10 From this perspective film music can contribute in an overwhelming way, via its tendency to hyperexplicate, to passivity in the viewer/listener. In other words, a given passage of music, instead of leading the viewer/listener towards an open and/or paradigmatic reading of a given situation, imposes a single reading by telling the viewer/listener exactly how to react to and/or feel that situation. It is certainly no mystery that the various popular film industries worldwide and the critical establishments that have been built up around them have a massive distaste for ambiguity and multivalence. At very best in this type of situation, a cultural paradigm such as the cowboy hero is evoked. The film score can contribute to this type of evocation via various musical devices, which I would suggest are a form of metonymy, that have come to be automatically associated with the "wild west," for instance, whether it be a clip-clop onomatopoeia in the accompaniment or the mere presence of a guitar in the instrumentation. Here again, however, a major source of aesthetic pleasure can no doubt be seen in the principle of alternation, in this case between moments of cultural myth in a given cine-text and moments when something in the film such as the music and/or the montage causes the viewer/listener to transcend, in his/her perceptions, cultural myth into the realms of broader mythological patterns. We will see such an example in Psycho at various points of chapter 1.
Finally, I would strongly suggest that anybody planning on reading further into this book take the trouble to review, re-view, and rehear at least the major films in my discussions, such as Psycho (and the other Herrmann/Hitchcock collaborations), Shadow of a Doubt, Laura, The Sea Hawk (the 128'-version, please!), Double Indemnity, Ivan the Terrible, Vivre sa vie, and Pierrot le fou. Although I have included a Discography at the end, simply listening to the musical score will not suffice. Most of the films to which I have devoted a major discussion are available on video—even a wide-screen version of Pierrot le fou on laser disc and video cassette from Interama Video Classics. Although video does not of course come close to duplicating the experience of watching and hearing a well-projected, pristine print of a film in a large theater, it is an invaluable tool for the kind of close textual analysis that was all but impossible in the past. I particularly recommend the laser-disc medium, not only for its sharper audio and visual quality, but also because it is frequently the only video technology in which the original version of a film can be viewed—and in its proper aspect ratio, if the film was shot in one of the wide-screen formats.
Excerpted from Overtones and Undertones by Royal S. Brown Copyright © 1994 by Royal S. Brown. Excerpted by permission.
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|2||Actions/Interactions: "Classical" Music||38|
|3||Actions/Interactions: Historical Overview||50|
|4||Actions/Interactions: The Source Beyond the Source||67|
|5||Styles and Interactions: Beyond the Diegesis||92|
|Interlude I: Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Sea Hawk (1940)||97|
|Interlude II: Miklos Rozsa: Double Indemnity (1944)||120|
|Interlude III: The Eisenstein/Prokofiev Phenomenon||134|
|6||Herrmann, Hitchcock, and the Music of the Irrational||148|
|7||New Styles, New Genres, New Interactions||175|
|Interlude IV: Jean-Luc Godard: Vivre sa vie (1962)||188|
|Interlude V: Jean-Luc Godard: Pierrot le fou (1965)||200|
|8||Music as Image as Music: A Postmodern Perspective||235|
|A Brief (Postmodern) Conclusion||264|
|Appendix: How to Hear a Movie: An Outline||343|