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Siren City

Sound and Source Music in Classic American Noir

Robert Miklitsch

Publication Year: 2011

Hailed for its dramatic expressionist visuals, film noir is one of the most prominent genres in Hollywood cinema. Yet, despite the "boom" in sound studies, the role of sonic effects and source music in classic American noir has not received the attention it deserves. Siren City engagingly illustrates how sound tracks in 1940s film noir are often just as compelling as the genre's vaunted graphics.

Focusing on a wide range of celebrated and less well known films and offering an introductory discussion of film sound, Robert Miklitsch mobilizes the notion of audiovisuality to investigate period sound technologies such as the radio and jukebox, phonograph and Dictaphone, popular American music such as "hot" black jazz, and "big numbers" featuring iconic performers such as Lauren Bacall, Veronica Lake, and Rita Hayworth. Siren City resonates with the sounds and source music of classic American noir-gunshots and sirens, swing riffs and canaries. Along with the proverbial private eye and femme fatale, these audiovisuals are central to the noir aesthetic and one important reason the genre reverberates with audiences around the world.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ii-v


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pp. vi-vii

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pp. ix-xx

I have wanted to write a book on fi lm noir for some time, and since it is only upon some refl ection that I have been able to determine the origins of my fascination with the genre as well as the text’s main topics, sound and source music, I would like to begin..

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pp. xxi-xxiii

I want to begin by thanking Leslie Mitchner at Rutgers University Press, who is the sort of editor one dreams of — witty, responsive, enthusiastic — and Murray Pomerance, whose own essayistic work on fi lm is a welcome reminder that criticism and creativity...

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Introduction: Sound and (Source) Music

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pp. 1-18

Despite the pervasive presence of musical numbers in classic fi lm noir, not to mention the use of voice-over and hard-boiled dialogue, the genre — like the medium in general, motion pictures — has been viewed primarily in visual terms, whether it’s high-contrast...

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Prologue: Small World, Big Sign

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pp. 19-23

While it might be appropriate to begin a book on sound and source music in forties noir with a fi lm whose effects are exorbitant, I want instead to open with one that is arguably structured around its other: silence....

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1. House Sound: Reverb, Offscreen Sound, and Voice-Over Narration in Early Rko Noir

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pp. 24-52

In the wake of Warner Bros.’s sound-on-disc Don Juan (1926) and The Jazz Singer (1927), “Hollywood scrambled on to the bandwagon of sound,” Richard Jewell writes, “and gave birth...

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2. Sonic Effects: Sound and Fury in Forties Noir

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pp. 53-83

With respect to sound I think it’s safe to say that, in addition to voice-over narration, the most distinctive aspect of fi lm noir is, as a number of compilation volumes attest, its hard-boiled dialogue...

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3. Audio Technologies: Intercoms and Dictaphones, Telephones and Radios, Phonographs and Jukeboxes

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pp. 84-127

As Nicholas Christopher observes in Somewhere in the Night (1997), there is an “ongoing fascination in fi lm noir with electrical devices,” a “galaxy of new machines and luxury” accoutrements...

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4. Blues in the Night: Popular and Classical Instrumental Source Music

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pp. 128-163

In the form of scores as well as emanating from various sources, radio and record player and jukebox, music in forties noir and classical Hollywood cinema more generally is employed to accent almost every conceivable kind of action. One of the most distinctive, though, is...

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5. Singing Detectives and Bluesmen, Black Jazzwomen and Torch Singers

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pp. 164-191

The death of Keith Vincent in Nocturne, murdered while he’s composing a popular song, is unique in classic noir, but singing itself is not uncommon in the genre. For example, The Naked City (1948), an early semi-documentary that derives from the work of Robert Flaherty and...

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6. The Big Number (Side B): Killing Them Softly

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pp. 192-221

It’s safe to say that the musical numbers one remembers most from classic — in this case, forties — noir are those in which a woman sings while backed by a combo or orchestra. Although there’s something to be said for female performers who accompany themselves, whether...

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7. The Big Number (A Side): Siren City

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pp. 222-250

Unlike Coral Chandler, who’s responsible for the deaths of both her husbands, Nora Prentiss (Ann Sheridan) in Vincent Sherman’s 1947 fi lm of the same name is selfl essly devoted to her husband to the bitter end. (In this, her character’s estimable, albeit very nearly masochistic, commitment...

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Epilogue: Silences

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pp. 251-254

This book, Siren City, has been all about sound effects and source music and, to some extent, dialogue and voice-over and scores. It’s also been, if only tacitly, about silence since none of these sonic phenomena would exist without it. Silence is the ultimate source, the...


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pp. 255-274


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pp. 275-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780813553924
E-ISBN-10: 081355392X

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 24 illustrations.
Publication Year: 2011