Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema

Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema

Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema

Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema

Synopsis

This groundbreaking collection by the most distinguished musicologists and film scholars in their fields gives long overdue recognition to music as equal to the image in shaping the experience of film. Refuting the familiar idea that music serves as an unnoticed prop for narrative, these essays demonstrate that music is a fully imagined and active power in the worlds of film. Even where films do give it a supporting role--and many do much more--music makes an independent contribution. Drawing on recent advances in musicology and cinema studies, Beyond the Soundtrack interprets the cinematic representation of music with unprecedented richness. The authors cover a broad range of narrative films, from the "silent" era (not so silent) to the present. Once we think beyond the soundtrack, this volume shows, there is no unheard music in cinema.

Excerpt

A student of film music looking for a touchstone, a test case for any and every theory, could do worse than settle on Fritz Lang’s M (1931). If film music appears anywhere in its bare essence, it appears here. The story concerns a child-murderer who wanders like a shadow through the streets of a modern city. The monster goes unrecognized because he looks like a harmless, pudgy nobody rather than like a hobgoblin. But he reveals his hobgoblin nature through music. The murderer, M, is a nervous whistler, and what he whistles—the only music we hear in the whole film—is hobgoblin music, Edvard Grieg’s “In the Halls of the Mountain King,” from the incidental music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Aside from its symbolic value with respect to the narrative, the restriction of music to just this whistling, and the whistling to just this tune, produces the “zero degree” of music in cinema: a few simple notes on the border between music and its absence.

One episode of this whistling deserves special attention. It occurs as we see the killer, Beckert by name, through a trellised mass of greenery as he sits in an outdoor café. The whistling strikes up, but just this once it does not seem to be coming from Beckert’s lips, though it could hardly be coming from anywhere else. Always ominous, the whistling now becomes uncanny, disembodied. This impression comes fully into its own a moment later when Beckert, who is tormented by his compulsion, covers his mouth in an attempt to stifle the sound. It doesn’t help; the whistling goes right on with no change of tone quality. Like the drive to kill, the music will continue against the will of the man who makes it—or doesn’t. The moment is an odd one in a film whose genre, the police procedural, is conspicuously “realistic.” Just what is the source of this music? Who is whistling it? Does it actually occur within the story at all? Or has it become a framing device, imposing itself from outside?

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