Notes 59.2 (2002) 324-326
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Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music. Edited by Pamela Robertson Wojcik and Arthur Knight. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. [x, 491 p. ISBN 0-8223-2800-3. $69.95 (hbk.); ISBN 0-8223-2797-X. $22.95 (pbk.).] Illustrations, bibliography, index.
Soundtrack Available marks a welcome addition to the growing literature on popular music in film. The use of popular songs in conjunction with films—feature, short, documentary, animated—goes back to the days predating synchronized sound. The acceptance of such scoring techniques is much more short-lived. The soundtrack album has become one of the most important moneymaking ancillaries to any feature film; as a result, one can find soundtrack albums of music from or "inspired by" a film on the Billboard album chart at all times. Perhaps the most significant sign of mainstream acceptance of the soundtrack album is that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) recently reconfigured their categories to include "Best Soundtrack Album."
The desire to compile this book, as the editors state, "came from a belief that most writing on film music has not adequately described popular music's role in film or people's experience of it (in the theater or [End Page 324] outside). We believe, nonetheless, that serious thinking about soundtracks—in their many varied manifestations—is crucial to our understanding and experience of film and music" (p. 5). Within this overarching topic, the editors organize the eighteen essays (plus introduction) into seven themes, some general—"Popular vs. 'Serious'" and "Contemporary Compilations"—and others quite specific, such as the pair of two case studies on Samuel Goldwyn's 1959 film adaptation of George and Ira Gershwin's musical Porgy and Bess. The editors acknowledge in their introduction that, between the ever-growing use of popular music in film (as well as other media forms) and the explosion of interest in the topic in academic circles, they could not include essays on as many topics as they might have liked. The claim not with standing,Soundtrack Available covers a wide swath of topics, including the music of films from a variety of different time periods, countries, and genres.
Jeff Smith's groundbreaking monograph, The Sounds of Commerce: Marketing Popular Film Music (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), sets a high standard that the present book clearly wants to follow; the editors say as much in their introductory remarks. Little surprise, then, that Smith's contribution, "Popular Songs and Comic Allusion in Contemporary Cinema," stands as one of the strongest essays. As directors and music supervisors devise more and more interesting ways of implicating songs into a film's narrative, the desire to comment on the story at hand with the music becomes overwhelming and, as Smith points out, can often pass by the notice of many an audience member—yet without necessarily detracting from their enjoyment of the film.
Two other effective essays deal with the singer and (in both of these papers) his voice in the creation of an unusual aural/ visual image. Allison McCracken's "Real Men Don't Sing Ballads: The Radio Crooner in Hollywood, 1929-1933," deals with audience perceptions of crooners Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee in their early films, bringing special attention to, as she puts it, the "gendered nature of the relationships between sound and image..." (p. 127). Krin Gabbard, in his "Borrowing Black Masculinity: The Role of Johnny Hartman in The Bridges of Madison County," provides a thoughtful analysis that deals with the reverse of McCracken's article. Gabbard argues that, instead of the featured singer in Bridges not being masculine enough, director and star Clint Eastwood's choice of jazz singer Johnny Hartman for several key scenes, whose voice "expressed phallic masculinity at its most unproblematic," makes up for Eastwood's own role as a sensitive and emotional love interest—a far cry from the tough guy persona for which he is known (p. 296).
There are also interesting crossings in topics between the various thematized sections. Three essays discuss music produced in relation to...