|Julie Hubbert (ed.),
Celluloid Symphonies: Texts and Contexts in Film Music History
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011
ISBN: 9 780 5202410 22
(Review copy supplied by University of California Press)
This volume is a welcome addition to the literature on film and music. It runs to just under 500 pages, with 53 contributions (historical documents) assembled into five Parts, covering the advent of cinema to the present day; the final entry focuses on video games. Editor Julie Hubbert introduces each Part with an overview that both synthesizes the documents that follow, and goes beyond them. This means that structurally – though you’d miss out on some gems – it would be possible to concentrate on her introductions, with forays into those entries that best seem to fit whatever most interests you. Approaches range across the commercial, aesthetic and historical aspects of film music. This takes film music out of the domain of a problem for FoR codes in the era of ERA, and returns it to social history, and real life.
The very first contribution advises theatre managers in 1909 that “theater seats should always have a wire hat holder beneath the seat and on the back of each seat should be affixed a very small ring or staple through which the ladies may thrust a hatpin to hold their headgear instead of being obliged to hold them in their laps.” (35) Among the don’ts for a silent movie pianist of 1913: “Play ‘Everybody’s Doin’ It’ unless two or more parties die in the same scene”, and “Play a waltz for an Indian unless a dead one, and not then” (52). Worldwide, Opera from the Met simulcasts are now helping take opera far beyond the opera-house; for early 20th century America the source was the same, though indirect: “in most metropolitan cinemas (…) the cinema was second only to the symphony and the opera in terms of articulating significant musical repertoire” (18). This in turn transmitted to the quality of performances and the size of musical forces available to the leading picture palaces.
One of the more important chapters is Hugo Riesenfeld’s from 1926, just as his score for Murnau’s Sunrise (USA 1927), the hinge between the silent era and the talkies, is pivotal in film music history. It is fascinating to find the British Hitchcock, well before the collaboration of film music history, thinking about the soundtrack in 1934 in ways which seem to point inevitably to Bernard Herrmann. Elmer Bernstein revealingly analyzes the score to The Man with the Golden Arm (USA 1955) with substantial musical examples to illustrate the prose. In a later chapter he poses a single question to the director of The Exorcist (USA 1973), a question where a soundtrack to gauge the voice inflection would be intriguing, since “The Annotated Friedkin” allows the latter the floor before nailing him with 13 lacerating footnotes.
All this and much more fills these pages. One sobering but also challenging conclusion to emerge is that “large parts of film music history (…) have received virtually no attention”. For a start, 6 such areas are listed at the top of p.xi. Thesis supervisors, take note; candidates, take heart.
And what of Oz in all this? For a start, the name of Percy Grainger crops up three times in the opening hundred pages (thereby eclipsing Rupert Murdoch’s 1985 acquisition of the Twentieth Century-Fox studio on p.392). The volume’s acknowledged US focus whets the appetite for complementary surveys of film music history elsewhere. (How might Michel Chion look alongside other European theorists, some of them yet to be translated? What would volumes edited by Phil Brophy and Rebecca Coyle look like, superimposed on archival holdings of the NFSA and the Music Section of the NLA?) A Phil Brophy interview of Howard Shore – culturally so much better a match than a 1969 “BBC interview with Jerry Goldsmith” – brings the volume’s best story, how the daughter of the inventor of the theremin trekked from Moscow to London to record a session for Ed Wood (USA 1994). The interview is reprinted from a Cinesonic volume, reminding us of the high water mark of film music events in this country to date. And finally, the editor herself is no stranger to Oz, having spoken at a 1998 Adelaide conference on Richard Wagner, an ongoing presence in this book.
 Not least one of those typos regularly overlooked in one’s own work, which make reviewing a joy: “’blaxploitation’ and marital arts films” (p.297).