Film Music: Art, Sound, and Hollywood
Many classic films are inseparable from their soundtracks: it’s hard to imagine Vertigo and Psycho without the brooding scores of Bernard Herrmann, or Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns without the surreal sounds of Ennio Morricone. But if music can reinforce a filmmaker’s message, it can also undermine it, or take on a life of its own. Its power thus inspires not only fascination, but distrust. Cinematic depictions of music, from the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera to Robert Altman’s Nashville, have critiqued and lampooned it even as they praise it. And while individual filmmakers have mocked music’s power, the film industry as a whole has sought to control it. From the golden-age studio system to the assembly-line production companies of the 21st century, Hollywood has tried to transform music into a safe and predictable commodity. Today, it may have succeeded. How do we understand music’s varied roles in cinema—as a creative tool, artistic subject, and commercial product? How can a film’s soundtrack illuminate, complicate, or even contradict it? And how has the creative interplay of the two art forms been spurred, and increasingly stifled, by the requirements of commerce and mass production?
In this course we’ll trace the history of film music, and films about music, from the silent era to today. We’ll explore prominent collaborations—between Hitchcock and Herrmann, Leone and Morricone, Eisenstein and Prokofiev, Kurosawa and Takemitsu, Stanley Kubrick and Wendy Carlos, Paul Thomas Anderson and Jonny Greenwood—examining how musicians balanced their creative desires with the demands of tyrannical directors and studio heads. We’ll consider scores by Miles Davis, John Williams, Nino Rota, Prince, and others, and trace cinema’s ambivalent fascination with music through the works of the Marx Brothers, Altman, Preston Sturges, Ingmar Bergman, Werner Herzog, David Lynch, and Claire Denis. And we’ll consider readings by Bergman, Theodor Adorno, Hans Eisler, Michel Chion, and others, using them to illuminate film music’s tangled present and uncertain future. What does the broader transformation of the cinema—technological, social, and economic—mean for the fate of this increasingly industrialized and imperiled art form?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 09 — June 30, 2022