Cinema and Media Studies Film Sound
by
Paul Young
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0100

Introduction

Prior to the groundbreaking work by Rick Altman, John Belton, Michel Chion, Mary Ann Doane, Claudia Gorbman, Kaja Silverman, Elisabeth Weis, and Alan Williams beginning in the early 1980s, the richest moment of film sound criticism occurred during the Hollywood-led conversion to mechanized sync sound (1926–1933). At that time, critics worldwide, including filmmakers such as René Clair and Sergei Eisenstein, rushed to weigh in on what was gained, and lost, for the art of film with the introduction of “all-talking, all-singing” shorts and features. When Altman and his students began combing the Hollywood archives for historical documentation of the sound transition, the results of their research made clear that the development of synchronized sound filmmaking, far from being merely the result of a felt need for greater realism, was itself highly theorized; its practices, in other words, were neither obvious nor straightforward to anyone involved. Engineers from sound media industries (phonography, radio, telephony), hired by the major studios to make the pictures talk and sing, imagined sync sound variously as complement or supplement to, and even the referent for, the image track, and they imported theories of sonic realism from their own fields in ways that are both fascinating and extremely difficult to reconstruct. The emergence of multichannel film sound, first (briefly) in the 1950s as a complement to widescreen exhibition technologies, and again in the 1970s when rock music films (Tommy) and high-concept blockbusters (Star Wars) conjured up stunning feats of sound playback to match their spectacular images, helped bring sound studies into the consciousness of the field. Indeed, Hollywood’s permanent establishment of multichannel recording and exhibition by the early 1980s may be partly responsible for film studies’ new attention to sound, in general, and to world cinema’s conversion to sync sound, in particular. John Belton and Michel Chion, for example, regularly bridge the early sound era and the age of Dolby multichannel stereo in their discussions of sound space: how films develop diegetic space through sounds, dynamics, directionality, and reverberation, and how stereo processes expand diegetic space into spaces of exhibition—or better, to make exhibition space an extension of diegetic space. I am indebted to Claudia Gorbman’s excellent annotated bibliography in Weis and Belton 1984, pp. 427–445 (cited under Overviews and Anthologies), which provided both information and taxonomic inspiration for this bibliography, and to the anonymous readers of this bibliography for their incisive suggestions and recommendations.

Overviews and Anthologies

Since film sound is a relatively youthful dimension of film studies, several of the anthologies listed below provide broad, international overviews, connected primarily by their intensive critical and historical interest in sound. Weis and Belton 1985 reprints both classic arguments and more contemporary responses, while Altman 1992 and Altman 1999 offer entryways to the key theoretical debates of the past twenty-five years. Abel and Altman 2001 centers on the history of sound accompaniment for films during the period before sync sound, a rich and still relatively uncharted era. Hilmes 1990 approaches sound history indirectly, in terms of the competition between the film industry and other media industries. Sider, et al. 2003 includes contemporary filmmakers’ accounts of the state of sound filmmaking.

  • Abel, Richard, and Rick Altman, eds. The Sounds of Early Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

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    This collection expands a special issue of Film History (11.4, 1999) to cast an even wider net, namely, musical accompaniment, sound effects, lecturing, song slides, and “talkers” (live actors) speaking for filmed actors prior to 1930, by which time sync sound films and theaters wired for sound predominated.

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  • Altman, Rick. “The State of Sound Studies.” Iris 27 (1999): 3–4.

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    Introductory article in a special Altman-edited issue devoted to the “fourth generation of Sound Studies,” which he dates to the 1980 issue of Yale French Studies that he edited; here he takes account of the growth and sophistication of the field at the end of the 20th century.

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  • Altman, Rick, ed. Sound Theory/Sound Practice. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    A key intervention in the field of sound studies for both its broad set of topics (ranging from the Hollywood conversion era to cartoons and Third World sound filmmaking) and its unity of purpose: to explore how sound volume, reverberation, and mixing construct fictional spaces for viewer-auditors. Altman’s “Sound Space” (pp. 46–64) has been particularly influential.

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  • Hilmes, Michele. Hollywood and Broadcasting: From Radio to Cable. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

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    The history of the US film industry’s attempts to exploit and compete with radio and television, even to purchase stations or even networks, long before the mergers of Disney/ABC and NBC/Universal. Debunks long-standing myths about Hollywood barring its stars from television and radio appearances because of concerns about intermedia competition.

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  • Sider, Larry, Diane Freeman, and Jerry Sider, eds. Soundscape: The School of Sound Lectures, 1998–2001. London and New York: Wallflower, 2003.

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    Essays by filmmakers Mike Figgis, David Lynch, Walter Murch, and Randy Thom (as well as the scholars Michel Chion and Shoma Chatterji), first delivered as lectures at the National Film and Television School (UK).

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  • Weis, Elisabeth, and John Belton, eds. Film Sound: Theory and Practice. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    The first academic anthology on film sound. Contains many of the classic essays in the field, from Eisenstein, et al. 1988 and Clair 1985 (cited under Classic Essays on Film Sound) through psychoanalytic “apparatus” theories of sound in Metz 1985 and Doane 1985 (cited under Theorizing Film Sound).

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Classic Essays on Film Sound

This section lists some of the most-quoted of many ruminations on synchronized sound’s effects on film. Arnheim 1957a; Balázs 1970; Clair 1985; and Eisenstein, et al. 1988 argue on behalf of experimental uses of sound rather than using it merely as accompaniment to the moving image. Clair 1985 and Eisenstein 1942 lay out more specific aesthetics of experimentation. With the benefit of hindsight, Arnheim 1957b and Bazin 2004 offer diametrically opposed opinions of sync sound’s contributions to the art of film.

  • Arnheim, Rudolf. “The Complete Film.” In Film as Art. By Rudolf Arnheim, 154–160. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957a.

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    In this article written in 1933, Arnheim initially expresses some enthusiasm for the technology’s possibilities, but he chastises sound film practitioners for abandoning the development of techniques unique to the medium, such as montage and expressionism, in favor of “wax-museum” aesthetics that replicate—badly—the practices of theatrical drama.

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  • Arnheim, Rudolf. “A New Laocoön: Artistic Composites and the Talking Film.” In Film as Art. By Rudolf Arnheim, 199–230. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957b.

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    By the time he wrote “A New Laocöon” in 1938, Arnheim had lost all optimism, claiming that sound cinema has no future as a hybrid medium, for either sound must dominate the image or vice versa.

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  • Balázs, Béla. “Sound,” “Dialogue,” and “Problem of the Sound Comedy.” In Theory of the Film: Character and Growth of a New Art. By Béla Balázs, 194–291. New York: Dover, 1970.

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    Balázs complements Arnheim’s critique of early sound practice by calling for the sound director to “lead our ear as he (sic) could once already lead our eye” and “emphasize, separate. . .and interpret” sounds (pp. 198, 199); he also pleads for the artful use of silence. First English-language edition published in 1952.

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  • Bazin, André. “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema.” In What Is Cinema? Vol. I. Edited and translated by Hugh Gray, 23–40. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

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    This renowned and controversial essay, written in 1950–1955, argues that sync sound did not run counter to the nature of cinema, as champions of montage and expressionism claimed. For Bazin, cinema’s uniqueness resides in its ability to record events in continuous time staged in deep space.

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  • Clair, René. “The Art of Sound.” In Film Sound: Theory and Practice. Edited by Elisabeth Weis and John Belton, 92–95. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    In this essay, originally written in 1929, the director of Sous les Toîts de Paris (1930) and Le Million (1931) presses for sound to be used as a channel of meaning entirely distinct from the image, pointing to the inventive use of off-screen sound in The Broadway Melody (1929) as a model.

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  • Eisenstein, Sergei M. “Form and Content: Practice.” In The Film Sense. Translated by Jay Leyda, 157–216. New York: Harvest, 1942.

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    Discussion of Alexander Nevsky (1938), the first of Eisenstein’s fictional feature films to be released with a synchronized soundtrack. Offers insights into his collaboration with Prokofiev to make the musical score “follow” the visual contours of each shot, and to generate subtle conflicts and correspondences between image and sound.

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  • Eisenstein, S. M., V. I. Pudovkin, and G. V. Alexandrov. “Statement on Sound.” In The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents. Edited and translated by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie, 234–235. London: Routledge, 1988.

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    Usually attributed primarily to Eisenstein, this short manifesto (1928) pleads for a “contrapuntal” soundtrack style in which sounds and music would act as montage “cells” just as individual shots should do, capable of provoking productive conflict with shots and shot series.

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Sound in the “Silent” Cinema

It has been a truism in cinema studies for some three decades now that “the silent cinema was never silent,” meaning that the fact that films lacked soundtracks recorded during production practically mandated the use of live music and/or sound effects by exhibitors. In fact, as Altman 2005 (cited under History/Theory) shows, films before and during the nickelodeon era (up to c.1909) frequently were projected without musical accompaniment or sound effects—save the chatting of customers, street noises, and the like. Altman shows that before prerecorded sync sound, exhibitors—not film producers—had ultimate control over the “soundtracks” of films, whether they chose gramophone records, instrumentalists, sound effects, or ambient sound alone to accompany their shows. The resources in this section attest to the variety of exhibitor choices, and how those choices were assessed by the trade press, viewers, producers, and the exhibitors themselves.

Primary Texts

This small grouping of often-quoted and often-cited sources can be supplemented via the bibliographies from any texts in the History/Theory section as well as from chapters in Abel and Altman 2001 (cited under Overviews and Anthologies). Frelinger 1910, Hoffman 1910, and The Musical End 1909 represent some of the earliest publications focused on live film accompaniment as a problem, one to be solved by greater awareness of poor practices and greater uniformity from venue to venue. Lang and West 1920 and Rapée 1974 might be considered, in turn, as representative of the theory and practice of accompaniment by the 1920s. Anderson 1988 includes indexes hundreds of individual pieces of sheet music published specifically as film accompaniment.

History/Theory

Compiling histories of sound practices before 1926 requires painstaking research into film and vaudeville trade journals of the time. It also requires well-informed speculation, since live sound accompaniment normally leaves no trace of its performance. Thus, the period begs for theorization as well as description, and the following texts do both superbly. Altman 2005, Bowers 1986, and Marks 1997 are book-length overviews. Anderson 1997 describes how accompaniment dos and don’ts resulted from a complex process of social and commercial negotiation. Bottomore 2001 and Klenotic 2001 explore specific sound practices and their effects, while Carbine 1990 and Gerow 2001 demonstrate the impact of location, culture, and audience on these practices.

  • Altman, Rick. Silent Film Sound. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

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    A thorough historical study of the shifts in sound exhibition practices from the “novelty” and “attractions” era of moving pictures (approximately 1895–1905) through the late silent narrative feature era, when studios increasingly distributed commissioned scores to exhibitors along with films.

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  • Anderson, Tim. “Reforming ‘Jackass Music’: The Problematic Aesthetics of Early American Film Music Accompaniment.” Cinema Journal 37.1 (1997): 3–22.

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    Anderson shows that musical accompaniment had little connection to the film image before 1912, by which time criticism from audiences and the trade press pushed accompanists into choosing, rehearsing, and watchfully playing music “appropriate” to individual films.

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  • Bottomore, Stephen. “The Story of Percy Peashaker: Debates about Sound Effects in the Early Cinema.” In The Sounds of Early Cinema. Edited by Richard Abel and Rick Altman, 129–142. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

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    A rousing history of early sound effects practices, focused on the development of standards for their appropriate use, including music as sound effect (a flute trill to accompany a bird image, for example).

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  • Bowers, Q. David. Nickelodeon Theatres and Their Music. Vestal, NY: Vestal Press, 1986.

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    History of musical practices in the storefront theater (“nickelodeon”) era, roughly 1905–1912, by which time more elaborate “picture palaces” were severely undermining the appeal of the remaining nickelodeons. Bowers highlights the extent to which films were not accompanied by music during this period.

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  • Carbine, Mary. “The Finest Outside the Loop: Motion Picture Exhibition in Chicago’s Black Metropolis, 1905–1928.” Camera Obscura 23 (1990): 9–41.

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    Deals with the ironic, even resistant musical accompaniment for mainstream films provided by storefronts and theaters that catered to African American neighborhoods.

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  • Gerow, Aaron. “The Word before the Image: Criticism, the Screenplay, and the Regulation of Meaning in Prewar Japanese Film Culture.” In Word and Image in Japanese Cinema. Edited by Dennis Washburn and Carole Cavanaugh, 3–35. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    Argues that the benshi, narrators for Japanese silent films who became stars in their own right, were one of several extracinematic elements that were essential to spectators’ interpretation of films.

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  • Klenotic, Jeffrey. “‘The Sensational Acme of Realism’: ‘Talker’ Pictures as Early Cinema Sound Practice.” In The Sounds of Early Cinema. Edited by Richard Abel and Rick Altman, 156–166. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

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    The many uses of “talkers”—people hidden from the audience’s view, usually behind the film screen—to provide dramatic impact for nickelodeon screenings from 1907 to 1910. While the proprietary names of these “processes” implied a new technology at work (Humanavo, Dramagraph, etc.), “talker pictures,” in the fashion of P. T. Barnum, openly dared audiences to uncover the “trick.”

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  • Marks, Martin Miller. Music and the Silent Films: Contexts and Case Studies, 1895–1924. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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    Historical account of the development of musical accompaniment practices in silent film theaters from the pre-nickelodeon era to the dawn of sync sound. Miller’s main focus is on commissioned scores, such as Joseph Carl Breil’s score for The Birth of a Nation (1915).

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The Conversion to Sound

Many histories of the conversion, popular as well as scholarly, are available. Those listed here are meticulously researched and take careful account of sync sound’s cultural resonance. Since the cinema began, inventors ranging from Thomas Edison to Lee de Forest, the “Father of Radio,” tried to unite sound media with film projection with some technical success but little lasting impact. By 1926, Western Electric had perfected the Vitaphone system, a sound-on-disc process commissioned by Warner Bros. This up-and-coming studio exploited Vitaphone at this particular moment primarily to gain peer status with more powerful production companies, and to control film exhibition practices by making live musicians obsolete.

Historical Overviews and Theoretical Starting Points

Walker 1981 provides the most enjoyable overview of the conversion period in tracking the struggles of stars and other film-factory insiders, though the author also perpetuates the myth that the conversion marked a moment of industrial chaos. Crafton 1997 and Gomery 2004 provide a more balanced sense of how the film industry, exhibitors, individual film professionals, and fans dealt with the new “talkies.” Altman 1980, Altman 1992, and Lastra 2000 take a more theoretical-discursive approach, revealing the industrial and interindustrial politics that shaped the development of the talkies. Fielding 1984 reprints a treasure trove of primary historical sources on sync-sound technology, while Salt 1992 relates how sync sound practices affected cinematic visual style.

  • Altman, Rick. “Moving Lips: Cinema as Ventriloquism.” Yale French Studies 60 (1980): 67–79.

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    Not a history of the transition but rather a strong description of synchronized dialogue as fundamentally an act of misdirection. Altman reminds us how bizarre film sound really is by comparing it to a ventriloquist fooling the audience into attributing sound to “puppets” (the speaking bodies on screen) rather than the ventriloquist (the speaker/amplification system).

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  • Altman, Rick. “Introduction to Section 2: Sound/History.” In Sound Theory/Sound Practice. Edited by Rick Altman, 113–125. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    Overview of how the US film industry and the entrepreneurs and exhibitors who exploited it as multiple other technologies both before and after 1926: cinema as phonography, cinema as telephony, cinema as radio, etc. The point is that cinema has never had a stable identity for its producers or viewers/auditors; how it is perceived always depends on how it converges with—or is set against—other media.

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  • Crafton, Donald. The Talkies: American Cinema’s Transition to Sound, 1926–1931. Vol. 4 of History of the American Cinema. Edited by Charles Harpole. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

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    Painstakingly thorough discussion of the decision-making processes of individual studios regarding the development of sound. Excellent on studio economics, new problems sound posed for exportation to non–English-speaking nations, and the impact of the press and film fans on Hollywood practices.

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  • Fielding, Raymond, ed. A Technological History of Motion Pictures and Television: An Anthology from the Pages of the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

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    A compilation of professional articles describing and diagraming film production, projection, and sound playback/amplification technologies from the 1890s to the 1960s.

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  • Gomery, Douglas. The Coming of Sound. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.

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    The story of the conversion told largely from the perspective of its business interests. Special emphasis on William Fox and his failed gambit to control sound patents and thereby the film industry. Also offers a brief account of how the part-talkie The Singing Fool (Lloyd Bacon, 1928), not The Jazz Singer (1927), proved, via its stellar profits, that sync dialogue had a future.

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  • Lastra, James. Sound Technology and the American Cinema. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

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    An intellectual history of the conversion that traces sync film sound’s origins—or rather the origins of initial theories for matching sound to image—to machines for both recording and producing speech dating back to the 18th century. Indispensable historically and philosophically.

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  • Salt, Barry. Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis. 2d ed. London: Starword, 1992.

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    Chapters 14 and 15 take account of conversions to sound in different national cinemas and how sync sound impacted other technical and stylistic factors, such as average shot length (ASL) and mobile framing.

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  • Walker, Alexander. The Shattered Silents: How the Talkies Came to Stay. New York: William Morrow, 1981.

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    Eminently readable history of the Hollywood conversion from the perspective of the actors, screenwriters, technicians, and money managers to whom the coming of sound seemed, at worst, a disaster, and, at best, a jumble of anticipation, dread, and precipitous career endings (Clara Bow, John Gilbert) and beginnings (Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich).

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Initial Experiments

Eschewing the rhetoric of “origins” and “firsts,” the following sources describe the conversion as a time of exuberant (and sometimes desperate) experimentation with formats, technology, and practices that were often borrowed from other media technologies and mass-cultural institutions. Bandy 1989 and Bordwell 1985 are good starting points. Koszarski 1989 and Wolfe 1990 focus on the Vitaphone system at Warner Bros. and the studio’s inaugural films; The Vitaphone Project provides invaluable data for the researcher on the trail of any given Vitaphone short or feature. One hopes that Bergstrom 2005 is only the first of many articles to come about the technique and reception of Fox’s Movietone films, a relatively neglected topic, as is the racial politics of early sync vocal performance that Maurice 2002 explores. Cass 1930 gives insight into sound engineering philosophy a few years into the conversion.

The Systematization of Film Sound

Nearly all the sources in Historical Overviews and Theoretical Starting Points point forward to the transition, with some (Crafton 1997, Gomery 2004, Lastra 2000) following through to economic, technological, and technical systemization of sound in production and exhibition alike. Boone 1933, Miller 1929, Riis 2004, Spadoni 2007, and Steiner 2010 (originally published in 1937) offer glimpses into specific practices and philosophies of recording, acting, musical composition, and audience response.

  • Boone, Andrew R. “Prehistoric Monsters Roar and Hiss for Sound Film.” Popular Science Monthly (April 1933): 20–21.

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    Concludes on p. 106. Fascinating behind-the-scenes take on “sound supervisor” Murray Spivack’s sound effects for Kong and other monsters in RKO’s King Kong (1933). An undersung key document in the transformation of film sound from an aesthetics of faithful reproduction to an aesthetics of synthesis; Spivack intermixed multiple animal noises, some run backward, to create the article’s titular roars and hisses.

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  • Miller, Wesley C. “Sound Pictures: The Successful Production of Illusion.” American Cinematographer 10.9 (1929): 5.

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    Continues on pp. 20–21. Miller represents (to a degree) the challenge to the fidelity model espoused in Cass 1930 (cited under Initial Experiments): an “intelligibility model” (Lastra 2000, cited under Historical Overviews and Theoretical Starting Points), in which the volume of music and sound effects in a feature film must be subordinated to dialogue and other sounds necessary to the plot. By 1932, the intelligibility model had largely won: Loudness now rarely reflected the spatial arrangement of shots, and sound was mixed to retain consistent loudness from shot to shot.

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  • Riis, Johannes. “Naturalist and Classical Styles in Early Sound Film Acting.” Cinema Journal 43.3 (2004): 3–17.

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    Using early sound film in Denmark (Kirke og Orgel, 1932) as a case study, Riis demonstrates how “acting conventions of the late-19th-century stage, when characterized by their functional properties, also apply to vocal style in early sound films” (p. 3).

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  • Spadoni, Robert. Uncanny Bodies: The Coming of Sound Film and the Origins of the Horror Genre. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

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    Account of Universal’s one-two punch—Dracula (1930) and Frankenstein (1930)—that began the horror genre in earnest, and the ways in which each film plays on sync sound to achieve its uncanny effects—archaic, theatrical uncanniness in the case of Dracula, a more conventional (to present-day audiences) form of sound-cinema creepiness in the case of Frankenstein.

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  • Steiner, Max. “Scoring the Film.” In The Hollywood Film Music Reader. Edited by Mervyn Cook, 55–68. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    How he scored his first sound films, as told by the three-time Oscar-winning composer who helped (along with Alfred Newman, Franz Waxman, and others) turn Wagnerian leitmotifs and interpretive—but not obtrusive—musical cues into a formula that has long been the mainstay of Hollywood practice. First published in 1937.

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Beyond Hollywood

Sources on the transition in countries besides the United States can be hard to come by, but this section should help demonstrate the unique ways in which diverse national cinemas managed their conversions to sound. Cunningham 2005, Gangar 1999, and Zhang 2004 are broad historical overviews. Bertellini 2002, Dym 2003, and Mulvey 2003 provide narrower case studies of production and exhibition practices. Belton 1999 demonstrates, through a single film, the state of sound filmmaking in England and the development of Alfred Hitchcock’s signature style. Mulvey 2003 and O’Brien 2005 consider the conversion in terms of broader European contexts.

  • Belton, John. “Awkward Transitions: Hitchcock’s Blackmail and the Dynamics of Early Film Sound.” Musical Quarterly 83.2 (1999): 227–246.

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    The first sound film made in Great Britain (1929) as an example of what the British film industry learned from Hollywood’s mistakes as well as its successes. Belton shows how Blackmail avoids the on–off–on jerkiness of other part-talkies such as The Jazz Singer by careful sound mixing and inventive use of music to shape the narrative.

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  • Bertellini, Giorgio. “Dubbing L’Arte Muta: Poetic Layerings around Italian Cinema’s Transition to Sound.” In Re-viewing Fascism: Italian Cinema, 1922–1943. Edited by Jacqueline Reich and Piero Garofalo, 30–82. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

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    Casts the transition to sound in Italy as a crucial context for understanding Italian cinema’s engagement with poetic realism, Romanticism, and the politics of Italy’s internal “linguistic divisions” under Fascism. Bertellini cites Sergio Raffaelli, La lingua filmata: Didascalie e dialoghi nel cinema italiano (1992) as a more thorough and “systematic” history of the conversion.

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  • Cunningham, John. “The End of Empire: Revolution, Reaction, and the Talkies.” In Hungarian Cinema: From Coffee House to Multiplex. By John Cunningham, 16–29.London: Wallflower, 2005.

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    A look at the conversion in eastern Europe, via the example of Hungary, which came under Communist rule for a short time in 1919. The film industry of the 1920s struggled against “near paralysis” thanks to political restrictions, but the conversion offered fresh opportunities despite political infighting, censorship, and the encroachment of Nazi Germany after 1933.

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  • Dym, Jeffery A. Benshi, Japanese Silent Film Narrators, and Their Forgotten Narrative Art of Setsumei: A History of Japanese Silent Film Narration. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2003.

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    Chapter 10, “The Talkie Revolution and the Demise of the Benshi,” discusses the benshi strikes protesting—and thus slowing, but hardly quelling—the development of sound cinema in Japan.

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  • Gangar, Amrit. “The History of Sound in Indian Cinema.” Paper presented at the International Symposium on Sound in Cinema, London, 15–18 April 1999.

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    Gangar, a respected independent historian of Indian film, first delivered this essay as a paper at the International Symposium on Sound in Cinema. The website www.filmsound.org, a self-proclaimed “learning space dedicated to the art of film sound design,” is generally a reliable resource for sound film history, but should always be supplemented with research from academic books and journals.

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  • Mulvey, Laura. “Cinema, Sync Sound and Europe 1929: Reflections on Coincidence.” In Soundscape: The School of Sound Lectures, 1998–2001. Edited by Larry Sider, Diane Freeman, and Jerry Sider, 15–27. London and New York: Wallflower, 2003.

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    Examines European cinema culture’s anxieties regarding Hollywood’s push for sync sound and the “loss of the international spirit of non-synchronized cinema” that followed, just as the stock market crashes of 1929 plunged the Western world into economic panic.

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  • O’Brien, Charles. Cinema’s Conversion to Sound: Technology and Film Style in France and the U.S. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

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    While focused on France, O’Brien’s book offers a more general discussion of early European (and US) sync sound practices by following lines of economic and stylistic influence. He demonstrates how French filmmaking emphasized improvisation and stage performance aesthetics through the late 1930s, resulting in less editing and more direct address than Hollywood practices allowed.

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  • Zhang, Yingjin. “Cinema and the Nation-People, 1930–1949.” In Chinese National Cinema. By Yingjin Zhang, 58–112. London: Routledge, 2004.

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    Relates the linguistic, technological, and cultural complexities of the transition (1930–1936) in mainland China, including the industry’s struggles to fend off Hollywood’s encroachment and the controversial emergence of leftist filmmaking.

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Sound History after the Conversion

By no means exhaustive, this section offers a sampling of approaches—musicological (Kassabian 2001); case studies of period, technology, or technique (Kozloff 2000); industrial and economic history (Belton 1992, Beck 2003); impressions of the sound professionals themselves (Sabaneev 1935, Ondaatje 2007)—and works on the history of sound in the US cinema once it became a staple of the industry.

  • Beck, Jay. “A Quiet Revolution: Changes in American Film Sound Practices, 1967–1979.” PhD diss., University of Iowa, 2003.

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    Winner of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Award in 2004, Beck’s dissertation puts the Dolby multichannel stereo “revolution” of the 1970s in perspective by tracing Hollywood’s multichannel recording and playback experiments back to the 1940s (see also Belton 1992).

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  • Belton, John. Widescreen Cinema. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

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    A thoroughgoing study of CinemaScope, Cinerama, and other widescreen and “big-screen” practices in the early 1950s. Belton gives ample attention to magnetic sound recording (a post–World War II innovation; see also Belton’s essay in Altman 1992, cited under Overviews and Anthologies) and 20th Century-Fox’s engineering of multichannel stereo to match the scale of its CinemaScope image.

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  • Kassabian, Anahid. Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music. New York: Routledge, 2001.

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    Concentrates on the “compiled score” made up of popular songs as the preferred mode for film scoring since the 1980s, and theorizes what Kassabian calls “affiliating identifications” that arise from viewer-listeners’ associations with the songs used in these compilations.

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  • Kozloff, Sarah. Overhearing Film Dialogue. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

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    Stresses the formal and stylistic functions of dialogue and its delivery in American cinema, both generally and with respect to four genres (Westerns, screwball comedies, gangster films, and melodramas).

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  • Ondaatje, Michael. The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. New York: Knopf, 2007.

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    Incisive discussions with Murch, the editor and sound editor/mixer for such New Hollywood films as Apocalypse Now and The Conversation.

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  • Sabaneev, Leonid. Music for the Films: A Handbook for Composers and Conductors. Translated by S. W. Pring. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1935.

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    A composer who worked in England, the United States, and France after leaving Soviet Russia in 1926, Sabaneev here provides a snapshot not only of standard composition practices of the mid-1930s, but also of the techniques and technologies of recording.

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Theorizing Film Sound

Late-20th-century film sound theory is almost unimaginable without the debate about phenomenology, that is, film sound’s relationship to sounds produced and heard in physical reality. Williams 1980, Metz 1985, Levin 1984, and Levin 1990 lay out the originary terms and questions of the debate. Doane 1985 and Silverman 1988 are the most influential psychoanalytic accounts of this phenomenology, while Chion 1994 charts the author’s own philosophically rich path through the problem, emphasizing the multiple functions of each sound in a given film.

  • Chion, Michel. Audio-Vision. Edited and translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

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    Essential reading for the student of film sound theory. In this volume and in The Voice in Cinema (1982; English edition 1999), Chion explores the structural, spatial, and narrative functions of sound, music, and voice, including its various (and sometimes nefarious) uses as an offscreen phenomenon.

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  • Doane, Mary Ann. “Ideology and the Practice of Sound Editing and Mixing.” In Film Sound. Edited by Elisabeth Weis and John Belton, 54–62. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    Classic psychoanalytic arguments regarding the Enlightenment mind–body dichotomy maintained by classical cinematic sound practice and the positioning of the spectator as disembodied viewer-auditor. Also see in this volume, Mary Ann Doane, “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space,” pp. 162–176.

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  • Levin, Thomas Y. “The Acoustic Dimension: Notes on Film Sound.” Screen 25.3 (1984): 55–68.

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    Similar to Williams 1980 in that Levin takes issue with Jean-Louis Baudry and the claims made in Metz 1985 that sounds in cinema are identical to the “original” sounds made by their sources. Levin’s solution is to follow the example of Theodor Adorno, in Eisler and Adorno 2007 (cited under Film Music Theory) and elsewhere, in examining how technologies of recording and transmission change listeners’ relationships to sound and music.

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  • Levin, Thomas Y. “For the Record: Adorno on Music in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” October 55 (1990): 23–47.

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    Though not focused on cinema, Levin here substantially revises his reading of Adorno in Levin 1984 to hypothesize a theoretical middle way between recorded sound as faithful reproduction and recorded sound as pure construction: “[T]he [phonograph] record [of a musical performance] does not ‘mean’ the acoustic event but is rather like the proper name of the performance it inscribes” (p. 39).

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  • Metz, Christian. “Aural Objects.” In Film Sound: Theory and Practice. Edited by Elisabeth Weis and John Belton, 154–161. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    Infamous for claiming that “in principle, nothing distinguishes a gunshot heard in a film from a gunshot heard in the street” (p. 161, n. 6). But see Lastra 2000 (cited under Historical Overviews and Theoretical Starting Points) for a defense of Metz: “it is not a question of there being no literal difference between [these sounds]. . .but rather there being no difference in meaning (p. 125).”

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  • Silverman, Kaja. The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

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    Psychoanalytic study of the feminization of the cinematic voice—as opposed to the masculinization of image/vision—and the sexual politics that inhere in this opposition. Silverman’s deft analysis of Klute (director, Alan J. Pakula, 1971) is the book’s centerpiece. See also the work of Amy Lawrence.

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  • Williams, Alan. “Is Sound Recording Like a Language?” Yale French Studies 60 (1980): 51–66.

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    Influential (and quite scathing) critique of theorist Jean-Louis Baudry’s idealization of cinematic sound. Using filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s sound experiments as counterexamples, Williams brilliantly describes film sound as constructed to “perfor[m] significant perceptual work for us,” the spectators (which Baudry claims is true only of the film image, not film sound).

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Sound and Sound Recording beyond the Cinema

Building in part on Shafer 1993 (originally published in 1977), sound studies has become a field unto itself, melding musicology, social history, philosophy, and film and media studies to explore the aesthetics and politics of sound and listening. Just as influential as Shafer 1993 is Attali 1985, a theoretical and anthropological account of music, noise, and class hierarchy in the early modern world; Thompson 2002 takes a similar approach in the author’s case study of sound and architecture, while Chanan 1995, Sterne 2003, and Wurtzler 2007 position sound in the 19th and 20th centuries as a cultural concept that is, in part, “constructed” by cultural interests, politics, and commerce as well as by technology. Altman 1986 and Rodman 2009 amply demonstrate that television sound must be analyzed on its own terms, not merely as a domestic version of cinema sound.

  • Altman, Rick. “Television/Sound.” In Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture. Edited by Tania Modleski, 39–54. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

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    Excellent entrée into television sound as a set of textual and listening practices determined by such culturally specific factors as programming structures and the nature of domestic life.

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  • Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.

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    Theorizes music in western European history as a social and political regulator of uncontrolled “noise,” a term Attali considers both literally (as a nuisance to be regulated for the sake of political stability) and as an expression—or rather, a kind of ephemeral materialization—of resistance to social hierarchy.

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  • Chanan, Michael. Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording and Its Effects on Music. New York: Verso, 1995.

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    Chanan shares with Sterne 2003 and Wurtzler 2007 an interest in how the commodification of music affects its meanings and social functions. Especially intriguing for film sound scholars in its attempt to track how studio space, microphones, audio tape, and delivery methods, ranging from Edison cylinders to compact discs, transform the epistemology of the musical event.

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  • Rodman, Ronald. Tuning In: American Narrative Television Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    A fine and far-reaching study that takes an unapologetically semiotic approach, in which “musical structures align with visual and other sonic structures to produce an aggregate meaning in a television text” (p. 16). Well-grounded by television history and specific series/episodes (e.g., The Rifleman).

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  • Shafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester, VT: Destiny, 1993.

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    Originally published as The Tuning of the World in 1977, Shafer’s book is a founding document in the study of sound as an integral part of lived environments.

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  • Sterne, Jonathan. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

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    A cultural history of sound recording technology. Sterne posits that the cultural imagination of sound, speech, and music—rather than scientific or industrial developments alone—steered sound reproduction toward the technological and cultural forms it took by the end of the 19th century.

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  • Thompson, Emily Ann. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900–1933. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.

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    Thompson historicizes the conception of sound as “signal” in the first decades of the 20th century, and the “compulsion to control the behavior of sound”—volume, overtones, flutter echo, and the like—via recording and amplifying technologies and auditorium architecture. Concludes with an analysis of the design of Radio City Music Hall (opened 1932).

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  • Wurtzler, Steve J. Electric Sounds: Technological Change and the Rise of Corporate Mass Media. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

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    Wurtzler places film sound among phonograph records, radio broadcasts, and other media in a history of the implementation of sound as a mass-produced commodity in the United States, a history marked by debates about whether this development would uplift or degrade public tastes.

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Film and Music

So many films feature non-diegetic or “background” music—music without a source in the film’s story world—that we rarely notice it unless a film lacks it altogether. The functions of non-diegetic music vary widely, from emotional coloration and suspense-building to character leitmotifs. But, lest we forget, music that does emanate from the story world of a film functions in multiple ways, as well. The texts listed here amply demonstrate the analytical richness that the diegetic/non-diegetic distinction offers for critics of film music; they also reveal how the history of music publishing, recording, and performance can illuminate the cultural and formal meanings that a classical theme or a popular song brings to bear on a film in which it appears. At slight risk of overgeneralizing, it is fair to say that Buhler, et al. 2000; Flinn 1992; Mera and Burnand 2006; and Wojcik and Knight 2001 take cultural studies approaches to their respective topics, while Goldmark, et al. 2007 and Conrich and Tincknell 2006 fit more comfortably into the category of musicology. Music and the Moving Image and Music, Sound, and the Moving Image are the key scholarly journals here despite their youth, which reflects only the newness of film music as a subfield of cinema and media sound studies.

  • Buhler, James, Caryl Flinn, and David Neumeyer, eds. Music and Cinema. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2000.

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    A collection stressing interdisciplinary approaches to film music, including essays on the “Storm Cloud Cantata” from Hitchcock’s British version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), the Wagnerian leitmotif as musical imperative in sound cinema, music in the New German Cinema, and the popular theme songs of Henry Mancini.

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  • Conrich, Ian, and Estella Tincknell, eds. Film’s Musical Moments. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.

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    “Musical moments” misleadingly implies a focus on performances or individual scenes when this collection actually takes a rather broad view of music’s functions in mainstream cinema. Nevertheless, the essays are strong and original, and, after an early focus on US musicals, the collection settles into a more diverse, cosmopolitan mode in later sections.

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  • Flinn, Caryl. Strains of Utopia: Gender, Nostalgia, and Hollywood Film Music. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Inspired by Dmitri Tiomkin’s speech accepting 1952’s Oscar for best musical score, in which he thanked Brahms, the Strausses, and Richard Wagner, Flinn argues that musical Romanticism dominated classical Hollywood scoring practices to such an extent that Romanticism’s insistence on a strong compositional individuality imbues classical film music with nostalgia for an idealized, utopian past.

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  • Goldmark, Daniel, Lawrence Kramer, and Richard Leppert, eds. Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

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    Anthology that takes advantage of the productive intersections between film music studies and sound studies generally, particularly insofar as the introduction and the essays in Part 2: Musical Agency engage with phenomenologies of listening between and across media.

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  • Mera, Miguel, and David Burnand, eds. European Film Music. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

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    Remarkable essay collection, edited by two film and television composers and composition teachers, representing historical and critical topics as diverse as film music aesthetics in the Third Reich (by Reimar Volker), Italian neo-realist sound practices and populism (by Richard Dyer), and Werner Herzog’s soundtracks by Krautrock band Popul Vuh (by K. J. Donnelly).

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  • Music and the Moving Image. 2008–present.

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    Not to be confused with Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, this interdisciplinary journal is co-edited by Gillian B. Anderson, an orchestral conductor and musicologist renowned for performing both new and original scores for “silent” feature films, and Ronald Sadoff, director of the Film Music program at New York University. Unique and especially welcome in that its intended audience includes professional musicians and “interested non-specialist[s]” as well as academic scholars.

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  • Music, Sound, and the Moving Image. 2007–present.

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    Scholarly journal co-edited by Anahid Kassabian (University of Liverpool) and Ian Gardiner (Goldsmiths College). Dedicated to international and interdisciplinary studies in audiovisual media, including television, video games, and digital art as well as cinema.

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  • Wojcik, Pamela Robertson, and Arthur Knight, eds. Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

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    Wide-ranging collection covering the history and functions of popular songs and singers in US cinema. Includes essays on jazz, popular song in the musical, music in Indian cinema (“Bollywood”), the diegetic songs of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958), and the crossovers into Hollywood made by such scandalously seductive radio “crooners” as Rudy Vallée.

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Film Music Theory

Most of these sources include musical analysis—the purest form of musicology and the hardest for nonexperts to grasp—among their theoretical approaches; Eisler and Adorno 2007 and Brown 1994 hew most closely to it. In part because they reflect musicology’s ever-broadening scope (music history, cultural studies, ethnomusicology, sociology), the essays in Donnelly 2001 contextualize their musical analyses in ways that communicate well to the analytical novice. Gorbman 1987 and Smith 1999 do particularly well at interweaving music theory with theories of the film image. Gorbman 1987, Stilwell 2007, and Smith 2009 engage overtly with the debate outlined under the heading Theorizing Film Sound.

  • Brown, Royal S. Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

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    Thorough, musicological study of the functions and manipulations of music, in which the author explores directors’ specific employments of music as well as film scores themselves (especially those composed by Bernard Herrmann, Sergei Prokofiev, Miklós Rózsa, Erich Korngold). Capped off by a discography and an excellent critical bibliography.

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  • Donnelly, K. J., ed. Film Music: Critical Approaches. New York: Continuum, 2001.

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    A solid, if traditional anthology in its focus on Hollywood. Helpfully divided into sections on classical and post-classical film music.

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  • Eisler, Hanns, and Theodor Adorno. Composing for the Films. London and New York: Continuum, 2007.

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    Frankfurt School analysis of the film soundtrack, co-written by composer Eisler and philosopher/musicologist/cultural critic Adorno (initially published under Eisler’s name alone in 1947). Examines “the aesthetic potentialities of mass art in the future, and its ideological nature at present” through the lens of “the technical and social potentialities and contradictions of music in relation to motion pictures” (p. liii).

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  • Gorbman, Claudia. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music. London: British Film Institute, 1987.

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    Gorbman systematically attempts to answer a key question for students of sound: How does non-diegetic music (or “background” music) function in cinema? Includes analyses of Clair’s Sous les toîts de Paris and the films of Max Steiner, one of the earliest and most important composers of scores for sync sound films (King Kong, Casablanca, Mildred Pierce).

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  • Smith, Jeff. “Movie Music as Moving Music.” In Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Edited by Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith, 146–167. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

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    A cognitivist approach to musical scoring as it impacts the emotions of viewers and modulates (whether to intensify or attenuate) feelings stirred by the image track.

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  • Smith, Jeff. “Bridging the Gap: Reconsidering the Border between Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Music.” Music and the Moving Image 2 (2009): 1–26.

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    Takes up the challenge of the reconsideration of the “border” in Stilwell 2007 by positing a tripartite approach that would account for “music’s relation to narrative space, the film narration’s self-consciousness and communicativeness, and the music’s aural fidelity” (p. 1).

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  • Stilwell, Robynn J. “The Fantastical Gap between Diegetic and Nondiegetic.” In Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema. Edited by Daniel Goldmark, Lawrence Kramer, and Richard Leppert, 184–202. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

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    A key essay in recent sound theory. Stilwell recognizes others’ dissatisfaction with categorizing all film music as either “diegetic” (generated within the story world) or “non-diegetic” (heard only by the audience), but upholds the distinction in order to understand “border crossing” between the two as not an “event” but a “process,” undertaken uniquely by each film.

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Case Studies

This section is meant to be more suggestive than exhaustive. The first subsection focuses on the Hollywood musical, an obvious choice for a film sound bibliography, yet hardly a representative one in that music in musicals functions quite differently from how it operates in any other genre. It is placed here as a model for interdisciplinary study of a single genre, for the Hollywood musical, in particular, depends on many noncinematic forms, including the Broadway musical, Viennese operetta, and the vaudeville/variety show. The second subsection presents a range of studies on specific directors and individual films while the third pushes past the musical into music’s functions in other film genres, and the film-historical trends with which genres intersect.

The Musical

Few film genres have generated so much publisher’s ink as the musical, including many appreciations and nostalgic accounts of “classic” musicals and their stars. In recognizing the sheer volume of the material (and its widely varying quality and reliability), this section offers scholarly entryways to general criticism and theory as well as musical subgenres. The new researcher would do well to start with Altman 1988, an indispensable interdisciplinary history of the form. Feuer 1993 and Altman 1982 are milestones in the theoretical-critical study of musicals as a conventional “space” for airing out American ideals of community and individuality as well as for examining the conflicts between these ideals; next to Feuer 1993, Dyer 1982 constitutes the most influential description of these ideological conflicts. Knight 2002 turns this critical mode on the problem of race to excellent effect. Gopal and Moorti 2008 demonstrates how Indian musicals bend Hollywood tropes to Bollywood exigencies. For the serious student of the genre, Cohan 2001 and Everett 2004 provide quick reference to the entire history of the critical literature on musicals.

  • Altman, Rick, ed. Genre: The Musical. London: Routledge, 1982.

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    Key early collection on the Hollywood musical, featuring theoretical essays (steeped in the important movements of the moment, particularly Lacanian psychoanalysis and Althusserian/Gramscian Marxism) by Lucy Fischer, Robin Wood, Jim Collins, and Jane Feuer. Includes a bibliography by Feuer.

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  • Altman, Rick. The American Film Musical. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

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    An exhaustive, engaging history of the musical from its false starts in the 1920s to its thematic, formal, and musical reinvigoration in the early 1930s. Constructs a useful taxonomy of types within the genre and explores each subtype (such as the backstage musical) both in its uniqueness and in its overlaps with other subtypes (the fairy tale and the folk musical).

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  • Cohan, Steven, ed. Hollywood Musicals: The Film Reader. London: Routledge, 2001.

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    Divided into four sections—“Generic Forms,” “Gendered Spectacles,” “Camp Interventions,” and “Racial Displacements”—this collection covers the most productive scholarly angles on Hollywood musicals from the 1970s (Dyer 1982, Feuer in Altman 1982) to the end of the century (Pamela Robertson Wojcik on camp and capitalism in Gold Diggers of 1933, pp. 129–142). Caution: most essays have been edited for length.

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  • Dyer, Richard. “Entertainment and Utopia.” In Genre: The Musical. Edited by Rick Altman, 175–189. London: Routledge, 1982.

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    Highly influential essay written in the tradition of Birmingham School cultural studies. Using musicals as his central example, Dyer breaks down the insidiously ideological workings of Hollywood films’ championing of “entertainment,” yet he recognizes how musicals legitimate their audience’s desires for modes of community life that exceed the restrictions of institutionalized inequality.

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  • Everett, William A. The Musical: A Research and Information Guide. London: Routledge, 2004.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203329764Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An extensively annotated bibliography covering not only film musicals (section 3), but also Broadway musicals, European operettas, and other musical stage genres.

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  • Feuer, Jane. The Hollywood Musical. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

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    Expands on the argument made in her 1977 essay “The Self-Reflective Musical and the Myth of Entertainment” (Altman 1982), in which “backstage” musicals call attention to the labor of musical performance, yet manage to re-mystify that labor by representing audience manipulation as that which opposes entertainment, even as they expertly manipulate their own audiences’ emotions.

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  • Gopal, Sangita, and Sujata Moorti, eds. Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

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    Thanks to Bollywood’s international fandom and intertextual references to Indian cinema in US and European cinema, mention of “the musical” today is as likely to call to mind masses of sari-clad dancers in rolling fields as it does Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dancing in the dark. This collection (buttressed by an expansive introductory chapter) provides a broad view of song and dance’s functions in multiple Indian film genres since the dawn of sync sound.

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  • Knight, Arthur. Disintegrating the Musical: Black Performance and American Musical Film. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

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    Focusing on “race musicals” such as Hallelujah! (1929) and Cabin in the Sky (1943) as well as jazz performances in shorts and features, Knight examines the racial politics surrounding African American musical performers (who were offered few creative roles in US cinema outside of musical performance) during the classical Hollywood era.

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Directors and Individual Films

These sources provide useful models of single-film or single-filmmaker studies for researchers inclined to follow suit, while also touching upon important sound film subjects otherwise underrepresented in this bibliography. Carroll 1985, Chion 2008, Fischer 1985, and Weis 1982 categorize modes of sound’s use in terms of directors rather than, say, national cinemas or individual studios; Beck 2008 and Johnson 2008 cast two remarkable sound films as cinematic ruminations on the status of film sound in two very different cinematic, technological, and political environments.

  • Beck, Jay. “The Sounds of ‘Silence’: Dolby Stereo, Sound Design, and The Silence of the Lambs.” In Lowering the Boom: Critical Studies in Film Sound. Edited by Jay Beck and Tony Grajeda, 68–83. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

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    In this deft study of the functions of Dolby multichannel stereo sound in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Beck makes good use of Michel Chion’s claim that Dolby stereo conflates offscreen space (that is, diegetic space lying outside the film frame) with auditorium space, thus turning the very acoustics of viewing/listening space into a storytelling tool.

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  • Carroll, Noël. “Lang and Pabst: Paradigms of Early Sound Practice.” In Film Sound: Theory and Practice. Edited by Elisabeth Weis and John Belton, 265–276. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    Study of two films from Germany, Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and G. W. Pabst’s Kameradschaft (1931), as exemplars of the distinct “artistic dispositions” that arose in the early sound period, which Carroll sees as reflections of the conflicting philosophies of “reconstitutive” sound (Eisenstein, et al. 1988, Clair 1985 [cited under Classic Essays on Film Sound), as reflected by M, versus realist sound (Hollywood practice, Bazin 2004 [cited under Classic Essays on Film Sound), as reflected by Kameradschaft.

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  • Chion, Michel. David Lynch. Translated by Robert Julian. London: British Film Institute, 2008.

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    Lynch is one of the rare directors who takes a hand in the sound design and editing of his films, and often thematizes sound as well (Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive). Little wonder, then, that Chion chose Lynch for his only single-director monograph thus far. Originally published in 1995.

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  • Fischer, Lucy. “Enthusiasm: From Kino-Eye to Radio-Eye.” In Film Sound: Theory and Practice. Edited by Elisabeth Weis and John Belton, 246–264. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    Fischer discusses Soviet director Dziga Vertov’s agreements and disagreements with Eisenstein, et al. 1988 (cited under Classic Essays on Film Sound) and analyzes Vertov’s sound documentary Enthusiasm (1930) as Vertov’s “Radio-Eye” experiment in using sync sound to break down, rather than construct, naturalist illusionism.

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  • Johnson, David T. “Critical Hearing and the Lessons of Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up.” In Lowering the Boom: Critical Studies in Film Sound. Edited by Jay Beck and Tony Grajeda, 289–298. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

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    The choppy sound in the final scene of the quasi-documentary Iranian film Close-Up (Nama-ye Nazdik, 1990), in which a charlatan meets the director he has been impersonating (while the latter is wired for sound), gives Johnson occasion to articulate Kiarostami’s challenge to how live sound signifies “truth” in documentary film.

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  • Weis, Elizabeth. The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock’s Sound Track. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982.

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    Study of Alfred Hitchcock’s use of sound, silence, and music to structure audiences’ experience of his films, and to express the subjective states of his characters.

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Genres and Historical Trends

The study of genres—their structures and semantics, their periodicity, their relationships to extra-cinematic texts—has long been a staple of global film criticism and history. Like the other two subsections here, this one aims less at coverage (scarcely possible in this format) than at directing the reader toward models of field-expanding historical and generic case studies that also happen to be excellent examples of scholarly writing on sound. Gorbman 2000 and Link 2004 provide thorough and enlightening analyses of single films in which sound plays a particularly prominent narrational role. Both Gabbard 1996 and Smith 1998 address the cultural and industrial history of a specific genre of film music. Chatterji 2003 and Curtis 1992 take more generalizing looks at Indian cinema and American animation, respectively.

  • Chatterji, Shoma. “Silence Juxtaposed against Sound in Contemporary Indian Cinema.” In Soundscape: The School of Sound Lectures, 1998–2001. Edited by Larry Sider, Diane Freeman, and Jerry Sider, 103–111. London and New York: Wallflower, 2003.

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    Chatterji, a prominent film journalist, discusses the lack of literal silence in most Indian films (which reflects the noisy urban lives of the majority of its fans) and suggests that “silence” as an idea functions most often as a tool of characterization in Indian cinema.

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  • Curtis, Scott. “The Sound of Early Warner Bros. Cartoons.” In Sound Theory/Sound Practice. Edited by Rick Altman, 191–203. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    Curtis shows that despite the tendency of film studies to cast animation as a special case of cinema, cartoons such as Warner Bros.’ Merrie Melodies series reveal that existing critical categories of sound (diegetic, non-diegetic, etc.) are far too narrow to account for animation’s tremendous range of sound practices.

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  • Gabbard, Krin. Jammin’ at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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    Exhaustive, enlightening survey of jazz in US film from the beginning of the sound era. Particularly sensitive to the racial politics of Hollywood’s (and white America’s) appropriation of jazz from its African-American inventors.

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  • Gorbman, Claudia. “Music in The Piano.” In Jane Campion’s The Piano. Edited by Harriet Margolis, 42–58. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Thoroughgoing analysis of music’s functions in this film, which include aligning the audience with the subjectivity of Ada (Holly Hunter) through her diegetic piano performances and the non-diegetic reprises of the same melodies, and utilizing her status as a musician to construct for the audience her “personal authenticity.”

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  • Link, Stan. “Sympathy with the Devil? Music of the Psycho post-Psycho.” Screen 45.1 (2004): 1–20.

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    Theoretically astute and very teachable essay on the “anempathetic” functions of diegetic music chosen by psychopathic and sociopathic characters in 1980s thrillers and crime films (Reservoir Dogs, Blue Velvet, The Silence of the Lambs).

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  • Smith, Jeff. The Sounds of Commerce: Marketing Popular Film Music. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

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    Explores the history of cross marketing between the music and film industries (which rapidly became indiscernible from one another in many respects) via sheet music promotion, the placement of popular songs in films of all genres, soundtrack albums, music videos, and other forms.

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