- Scoring Transcendence: Contemporary Film Music as Religious Experience by Kutter Callaway
In recent years, academic criticism has sought to reclaim the importance of film sound and music in film studies, attempting to rectify and balance the discipline’s over-emphasis on image-based analysis. Despite this, scholars are only beginning to examine how film music and the emotional spaces it opens can be analysed in a spiritual or religious light. In Scoring Transcendence, Kutter Callaway addresses this subject and provides a convincing rationale for an increased focus on film music not only in religion and film discussions, but in film studies as a whole. While Callaway is writing from an explicitly Christian viewpoint (theologically speaking), Scoring Transcendence has plenty to offer to those studying film and religion, cinematic spirituality and transcendence, and film music in general.
In the introduction of his book, Callaway provides some reasons for why both film scholars and film and religion scholars have been reluctant to incorporate analysis of music into their work. Callaway points to the Western tendency to prize ‘second-order thought and reflection over and against first-order religious experience’ as the prime reason for the neglect of music in film and religion criticism, but also suggests that in the wider world of film analysis, music is seen as a less important element in the film’s construction of meaning (6). Seeking to correct this oversight, he spends the remainder of the book arguing for the importance of music in film analysis, especially in critical approaches that consider emotion or spirituality. Callaway takes a new approach to analysing music and spirituality, proposing ‘to develop a mode of film music analysis that will remain accessible to non-musicians who are interested in theological dialogue’ (9). From the onset, Callaway grounds his approach to film music analysis in five assumptions: film operates as a locus for ‘meaning making and identity formation in contemporary culture’; a film’s reception is where meaning is constructed; film is ‘a decidedly commercial art form’; ‘contemporary films are primarily concerned with the construction of a narrative’; and ‘musical analyses must be located within a broader understanding of a film’s overall soundtrack’ (9–11). Concerned with how film music opens a space for spiritual reflection in contemporary society, Callaway largely focuses his attention on films that fall into the [End Page 103] classical mode of cinematic production. By limiting his scope, Callaway adds depth to his theory over the course of the monograph, beginning his book with some examples before moving to the more theoretical part of his argument.
In the first two chapters of the book, Callaway focuses his attention on the films of Pixar Animation Studios, since ‘Pixar’s films provide a particularly salient example of the irreducible contribution that music makes to film’ (14). Callaway’s use of Pixar’s films functions in two ways: first, it serves to ground his later theoretical framework in particularities; and second, his analysis offers a compelling reading, musically and theologically, of Pixar’s films, a reading that stands on its own as noteworthy. In the first chapter, ‘Music in the Films of Pixar Animation Studios’, the author lists three changes in approach that have marked an evolution in Pixar’s conception and use of film music over the years: their use of music has shifted ‘from a predetermined emotionality to an invitation to feel’, ‘from straightforward “commentary” to hard-won clarity’, and ‘from undercutting life’s harsh realities to dealing honestly with its fragile beauty’ (18–34). He illustrates how the music in Pixar’s earliest films like Toy Story (1996) and A Bug’s Life (1998) primarily functions to direct the audience toward a certain mood or emotion, whether through its composition or lyrical content. By using music in this manner, the earlier Pixar films followed conventional models of animated film music, which leads Callaway to argue that the studio’s first films lack the emotional depth of their later work. Beginning with Finding Nemo (2003), the music in Pixar films undergoes a...