Music and Cinema, Classical Hollywood

David Neumeyer

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Music and Cinema, Classical Hollywood

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Commercial film production in the United States developed rapidly after World War I. Theater programs focused on full-length narrative feature films along with secondary one-to-two-reel films such as newsreels, comedy shorts, travelogues, and (by the late 1920s) cartoons. Industry consolidation favored efficient large-scale production practices. Performance practices with respect to sound and music remained quite diverse until the introduction of recorded sound (which happened first in newsreels and shorts, then moved to feature films by 1926 and 1927), the rapid development of sound technology in the period 1927–1932 (the latter date being when reliable post-production re-recording became possible), and the establishment of a consistent soundtrack aesthetic (between 1935 and 1938). Thus, the period of classical Hollywood film—or what is often called the “Studio Era” or the “Golden Age of Hollywood Cinema”—encompasses the radically different sound practices of live performance and recorded sound. Typically in the literature, however, “Classical Hollywood Film” means the sound-film era stretching from roughly 1930 to 1960 (though the end date can reasonably be pushed as far as 1972, when Dolby stereo was introduced, and the contemporary era of sound design began in earnest). The silent era is covered in a separate article; the sound era is the topic of the present article. The aesthetic of the integrated monaural soundtrack that was developed by the mid-to-late 1930s and whose priorities were immediacy (Rick Altman’s “for-me-ness”) and narrative clarity, not acoustic realism, prevailed throughout this period, despite changes in production and exhibition structures in the late 1940s, the introduction of widescreen ratios in the 1950s, and the increasing use of popular music as underscore (background music) in the 1960s. The establishment of studio music departments in the late 1920s, combined with the conventionalizing pressures of intense production (the major Hollywood studios together were releasing more than 500 feature films a year by the mid-1930s), produced an identifiable “classical practice” for music in the context of feature film narrative and its soundtrack aesthetic. Although many people wrote about theoretical and practice-related issues from the earliest years of the cinema, film studies in a disciplinary sense only came into being with the French filmologues in the 1950s, after which it moved into American college literature and communications departments in the 1960s and early 1970s. Film music studies came later (Gorbman 1987 being the establishing document), and sound studies later still (only in the first decade of the 21st century).

Article.  9051 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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