Category Archives: Film music

Syrtaki redux

Though Greek people rarely perform it among themselves in their own country, where the dance is mainly a tourist attraction, the internationally renowned syrtaki choreography by Giorgos Provias from the 1964 film Zorba the Greek functions as a symbol of Greek identity worldwide.

In the last decade syrtaki has drawn further international attention through its documentation by Guinness World Records as the world’s longest chain dance performance—twice, in 2007 in Cyprus and in 2012 in Greece. The enduring popularity of this international dance phenomenon engages the concepts of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and urbanization.

This according to “For the syrtaki dance once more: Cosmopolitanism, globalization and urbanization in continuum” by Maria I. Koutsouba, an essay included in Dance, senses, urban contexts: Dance and the senses—Dancing and dance cultures in urban contexts (Herzogenrath: Shaker Verlag, 2017, pp. 173–83).

Above and below, the classic film sequence.

BONUS: The 2012 record-holding performance.

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Tritonal crime

In an experiment, over 100 listeners reported associations with crime and detectives when presented with musical examples that were not originally intended to evoke such responses. These examples all involved melodic and harmonic tritones or half-diminished seventh chords, which have long been standard features of the music of crime-themed films, radio programs, and television shows.

The use of tritones and half-diminished chords in these contexts owes as much to their function as a style indicator of certain types of jazz—and as a genre synecdoche of people, places, and activities associated with that style—as it does to its history of harmonic ambiguity and associations with drama and woe in the European classical tradition.

This according to “Tritonal crime and music as music” by Philip Tagg, an essay included in Norme con ironie: Scritti per i settant’anni di Ennio Morricone (Milano: Suvini Zerboni, 1998, pp. 273–309).

Above and below, The man from U.N.C.L.E. brought a plethora of tritones to family televisions in the mid-1960s.

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Filed under Film music, Popular music, Theory

Disney music legacy libraries

snow-white-score

In 2015 Hal Leonard launched the series Disney music legacy libraries with Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the seven dwarfs”, a bound, glossy facsimile of the master score for the 1937 animated film Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

This 200-page MS guided the construction of the film’s final mix of music, dialogue, and sound effects—in effect, it represents the entire soundtrack of the world’s first full-length animated feature film.

Unlike many film studios, Disney has always saved its written and recorded music assets. Over almost 90 years, dating back to the earliest Mickey Mouse shorts and Silly symphonies, millions of pages of music have been preserved, most recently in climate-controlled conditions. Over a million of these documents have now been digitized, streamlining the time needed to find one from two weeks to three minutes.

Above, a two-page spread from the book (click to enlarge); below, the related sequence from the final film. More about the book series is here.

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Barbarella’s intergalactic lounge music

Barbarella

The soundtrack of Barbarella (1968) combines the popular lounge style of music from the 1960s with futuristic exotica to create a fun, sometimes psychedelic, experience that acts as a tool to propel the story forward from one sexual encounter to another.

This combination of the familiar lounge styling, so popular with the newly emerging bachelor section of society, with fantastic electronic sounds serves to transport viewers into this newly created movie universe.

Similar to the two different interpretations normally ascribed to the visual aspects of the film—that of “woman as currency” and the opposite of sexual empowerment—the music likewise can be heard in two differing manners; this disparity represents an issue that is still relevant in today’s society.

This according to “The intergalactic lounge: Barbarella and hearing the future” by Mathew J. Bartkowiak, an essay included in Sounds of the future: Essays on music in science fiction film (Jefferson: McFarland, 2010, pp. 134–147).

Above and below, vintage publicity for the film.

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Dumbo and psychedelia

Dumbo2

Some commentators have suggested that the films of Walt Disney led to the emergence of the youth counterculture in the 1960s.

The Disney film Dumbo (1941), particularly the sequence in which Dumbo the baby elephant mistakenly drinks alcohol, has a psychedelic dream, and learns to fly, is a case in point. The song Pink elephants on parade can be interpreted as an unleashing of Dumbo’s creative potential.

This according to “Disney psychedelisch: Musik und Rausch im Zeichentrickfilm” by Gregor Herzfeld (Acta musicologica LXXXVI/1 [2014] pp. 125–146). Below, Dumbo’s dream.

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Jazz and early cartoons

mickey jazz fool

Jazz and animation enjoyed an organic relationship in the developmental period for both forms.

From the 1920s to the early 1930s jazz provided frequent animation soundtracks. For the most popular and enduring cartoon characters, it was their music of choice. Two forms with clear structural similarities of syncopation and rhythm temporarily merged.

Together they created a timescape or representational space that critically challenged taken-for-granted relationships with the modern(ist) world. In an anti-realist attack on modernism, animated characters asked critical questions of their audience in a similar way to Brecht’s epic theater. In an alliance with jazz, they unmasked hidden aspects of society and its technological marvels in a questioning, revealing, and confrontational manner.

The comparatively marginalized position of two improvised forms allowed for the development of a critical artistic movement identified by the Frankfurt School—in particular, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno recognized that popular art was not merely a reflection of economic life but constituted a conscious, active force for change. The subterranean and often subversive values of the animation–jazz alliance were quickly recuperated, but for a limited period they offered a resistance that ran counter to established taste and the bourgeois appropriation of high art.

This according to “Of mice and music: Image, soundtrack, and historical possibility” by Coinneach Shanks (The soundtrack VI/1–2 [2004] pp. 67–81).

Above, publicity for Disney’s The jazz fool (1929); below, Betty Boop stars in Sally Swing (1938).

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Filed under Film music, Humor, Jazz and blues

FilmMusik

Ennio Morricone-FilmMusik

In 2014 Edition text + kritik launched the series FilmMusik with Ennio Morricone, a collection of essays edited by Guido Heldt, Tarek Krohn, Peter Moormann, and Willem Strank. Compiled in the year of Morricone’s 85th birthday, the book encompasses traditional readings of his music as well as new perspectives on it.

Morricone became famous in the 1960s as the composer of the music for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Their unconventional sound is, however, only one aspect of his multifaceted work, which—in addition to more than 500 film and television scores—also includes classical orchestral music, avant-garde jazz, electronic music, and borrowings from contemporary pop music styles. The book explores the full diversity of Morricone’s oeuvre and lets the maestro speak for himself in an exclusive interview.

Below, an excerpt from Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malèna (2000), one of five of Morricone’s Oscar-nominated film scores (he received an honorary Oscar in 2007).

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Film music, New series

ABBA’s film renaissance

abba

ABBA’s music has often been denigrated as bland, mass market pop. However, viewed from the point of view of reception, the ABBA phenomenon is a highly complex text that offers contemporary music consumers diverse, even perverse, pleasures.

Between them, Stephan Elliott’s The adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and P.J. Hogan’s Muriel’s wedding (1994) suggest a broad spectrum of ABBA consumers, from the sincere and sentimental to the hip, camp, and kitsch, using this spectrum to map a series of interfaces between culture, identity, the performance of gender, and place.

This according to “Music and camp: Popular music performance in Priscilla and Muriel’s wedding” by Catherine Lumby, an essay included in Screen scores: Studies in contemporary Australian film music (North Ryde: Australian Film, Television, and Radio School, 1999, pp. 78–88).

Below, ABBA’s Waterloo in Muriel’s wedding.

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Filed under Film music, Popular music, Reception

Werner Schroeter and Kulturscheisse

der-bomberpilot

Werner Schroeter’s films abound with the artifice, staginess, recontextualizations, and quotations typical of both camp and kitsch.

His achievement in Der Bomberpilot (1970) involves overturning mainstream interpretations of kitsch as a rejected externality by bringing what he called Kulturscheisse into productive play with contemporary German identities and their efforts to engage with alterity and the past. The film’s score is a grab bag that includes selections from Verdi, Sibelius, Wagner, Strauss, and Elvis, along with U.S. show tunes and German pop songs.

This according to “Embracing kitsch: Werner Schroeter, music and The bomber pilot” by Caryl Flinn, an essay included in Film music: Critical approaches (New York: Continuum, 2001, pp. 129–151).

Above, a still from Der Bomberpilot ; below, the beginning of Mondo Lux: Die Bilderwelten des Werner Schroeter, a documentary finished shortly after Schroeter’s death in 2010.

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Cape Fear redux

capefear

For his 1991 remake of J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 film Cape fear, Martin Scorsese had the Bernard Herrmann score of the original adapted by Elmer Bernstein.

The score was effectively re-composed for the later film, with Bernstein taking its basic components and redeploying them in often entirely new musical and filmic contexts, while also combining them with his own newly composed music and further preexisting material from Herrmann’s rejected score for Hitchcock’s  Torn curtain (1966).

Bernstein later said that Scorsese “wanted the atmosphere that [Herrmann’s 1962 score] provides” and that it was “much more appropriate for the remake…the first film was not up to the strength of that score.”

This according to “Cape Fear: Remaking a film score” by Jonathan Godsall (The soundtrack IV/2 [2011] pp. 117–135). Below, Cady’s ill-advised release from prison.

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