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Reviewed by:
  • Global Soundtracks: Worlds of Film Music
  • Anna Morcom (bio)
Mark Slobin, ed., Global Soundtracks: Worlds of Film Music (Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 412pp.

Global Soundtracks is a welcome publication that brings the study of film music within ethnomusicology firmly to the point of critical mass. It also clearly asserts the importance of global perspectives and case studies to the study of film music, hitherto based largely on Hollywood and textual analysis.

The volume contains essays on global film musics by various authors, set within a preface and three-chapter initial section on ‘American worlds’ and a concluding section on ‘comparative vistas’, all by Slobin. These sections provide the theoretical perspectives of the book. The first framing concept is a ‘typology of global cinema systems’ (x–xviii), which consists of supercultural cinema, subcultural cinema, European cinema, regional cinema centres, national cinemas, and ‘Third’ and ‘accented’ cinema. Hollywood (and America) is identified as the supercultural style and the book begins with Slobin’s analysis of Steiner.

These typological categories are useful as an introductory, broad framework. However, certain problems can be seen to emerge, and I discuss these here in relation to the case of India, with which I am familiar. Overall, there tends to be an overemphasising of the ‘supercultural’ force of Hollywood. For example, it is stated that, with the advent of ‘talkie’ technology, Hollywood scoring clichés began to be instituted across the world, and that:

No matter where or how you turn to filmmaking to tell a story, there’s a set of standard practices and devices that you can expect viewers to understand. Nobody questions the threatening chords that come right before the villain appears, or the swelling strings that signal love. . . . This entire, really complicated system of signs and subtexts goes down easily, so fluidly that it infiltrates virtually all the cinema systems of the world, regardless of local ideology. Around the world, audiences understand the musical codes for sad and happy, menace and mirth.


Firstly, there is a lack of historical contextualisation in these statements. The Hollywood scoring style was only adopted in Hindi films from [End Page 137] around the late 1940s, with earlier films being accompanied by small ensembles playing largely Indian light classical or stage music (Arnold 1991). Furthermore, this presentation of Hollywood as a blanket-like supercultural style fails to acknowledge details of the how and why of the adoption of Hollywood symphonic style; in India (and I’m sure the case is not unique) a number of specific cultural forces and features have shaped the appropriation of Hollywood music in Hindi films, as illustrated by the fact that Hollywood techniques are used far more consistently in some areas of Hindi films and song sequences than others (Morcom 2001). Hollywood as ‘superculture’ also de-emphasises other extremely important forces involved in bringing ‘Western’ and Hollywood music into world cinema. The fact that cabaret and jazz was a thriving local popular culture in large cities in India is immensely important (Shope 2008), as is the fact that communities of Indian musicians were trained and active in many forms of Western music (including cabaret), and hence easily able to adapt themselves to the performance and composition of Hollywood music (Booth 2008; this is also argued in Booth’s essay ‘That Bollywood sound’ in this volume).

As it is expanded with specific examples, Slobin’s typology also leads to some unsatisfactory and conflicting categorisations. Again focusing on Indian film, Hindi and Tamil cinema are identified as subcultural (xii) and then regional (xiii) without explanation of this overlap. The description of Tamil and Bollywood cinema as ‘subcultural’ is something I struggle to find appropriate, given that both are vast, transnational phenomena. Even in relation to a Hollywood ‘superculture’, the term ‘subcultural’ is far too much of a gloss for Bollywood. While it is true that Bollywood has taken a great deal more from Hollywood than vice versa, globally Bollywood is possibly more influential than is Hollywood, as more and more studies are starting to indicate (including Adamu’s essay in this volume, ‘The influence of Hindi film music on Hausa videofilm soundtrack music’). In terms of Tamil cinema being ‘subcultural’ in relation...


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pp. 137-140
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