Soundtracks and Scores: Syllabus

Course: TUT 100-24


Office Hours:

Phone: (641) 269-4583

Soundtracks and Scores: Music in American Cinema

Professor Ralph Russell
Tuesday and Thursday 8:00 - 9:50
Bucksbaum Center For the Arts, room 152
Office: (BCA) 261
Phone: 4538

Course Description:

From silent films to three-hour epics, music has been a major component in conveying emotions when words and visuals were not enough. Unfortunately with the copiousness of dialogue, cinematography, action scenes and advanced special effects, the functionality of music in this complicated construction of film art repeatedly goes unnoticed. The purpose of this tutorial is to acquire the languages as they pertain to both music and film to critically discuss and write on the aesthetic and functional significance of music in film. This course is essentially divided into two parts. The first part will cover the history of film music and analyze major symphonic scores; the part second will examine major sound tracks, that is, the use of popular songs in film.

Required Text and Materials:

Donnelly, K.J. Film Music. Critical Approaches

A folder, 5 X 8 index cards and a card file

Reserved Readings (regular reserve and e-reserve)

Brown, Royal S. Overtones and Undertones

Dickinson, Kay Movie Music, The Film Reader

Inglis, Ian Popular Music and Film

Lack, Russell Twenty Four Frames Under

Timms, Larry. The Soul of Cinema

Reserved Films (Tentative):
* Located in the Listening Library on the lower level

King Kong, Psycho, Blackboard Jungle

Jaws, Shaft, Clockwork Orange, The Graduate, Saturday Night Fever"

Apocalypse Now, Vertigo and Menace II Society

Final Paper:

Due Dec. 14

Write a 4 - 6 page paper on the role of music in film. You are permitted to explore a variety of topics that is biographical, historical or analytical. A paper on the symphonic film score, for example, could discuss how the music intensifies the action with dissonant chords or relaxes the pace with a melancholy flute melody. The leitmotif is another topic that could discuss how a motive connects the viewer with a character or place. Popular songs have also left an indelible impact on the development of contemporary and modern-day films and on their widespread popularity. Jackie Brown and The Big Chill are examples of how popular songs are used to "illustrate the moods and values" of the characters. Your paper must demonstrate a basic understanding of how music functions to, for example, emphasize the dialogue, reflect the character's thoughts and create suspense.



Writing Assignment No. 2   Due September 23

Topic: Contrasting Leitmotivs in the Symphonic Score

In the Bride of Frankenstein and King Kong we saw examples of how composers Franz Waxman and Max Steiner composed contrasting leitmotivs. These composers wrote leitmotivs that were dissonant and discordant and contrasting leitmotivs that were consonant and lyrical to represent the traits of these characters. Write a short paper on a film score that employs two contrasting leitmotivs. Identify the themes by explaining their ethos. Are the themes dissonant or consonant? How would you describe the length of the themes? For example Frankenstein's theme is short and dissonant and the Bride's theme is long and consonant. In your opinion do these themes effectively capture the emotional and physical attributes of the subjects?


Writing Assignment No. 4

Due Nov. 18

Jackie Brown, The Big Chill and Tender Mercies are examples of how popular songs are integrated into the film narrative. In these films music is used in a plethora of ways, for example, to underscore the dialogue, connect scenes, create "structural and stylistic unity," establish a period and location and reflect the thoughts of the characters. Drawing on the films and readings, select a film and critically discuss the role of music. Your paper must demonstrate your ability to interpret and analyze the purpose of music in the film. Why is there music in this scene? How is the music functioning?

"Case Study 2: The Big Chill" summarizes the functions of music in film and is an valuable source of information that can provide you with ways of interpreting and analyzing film music.


Oral and Group Presentations:

Oral Presentation. 5 - 10 minutes Thurs Oct. 7 and Tues. 12

The presentation should be on one of the topics discussed during the course. You may discuss the use of the leitmotiv, dissonance, mickey-mousing or the film scores of a composer.


Group Presentations.   20 minutes Tues. 12

The group presentation could be on the leitmotiv, dissonance, how instrumentation is used to change a theme, a composer or genre.