The Velvet Light Trap 51 (2003) 92-95
[Access article in PDF]
Pamela Robertson Wojcik, and Arthur Knight, eds. Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music. Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 2001. 491 pages.
What counts as popular music in film? Pamela Robertson Wojcik and Arthur Knight, the editors of Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music, have cast a wide net in their attempt to reach a definition. Popular music, they write, "includes folk, country, Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, jazz, disco, pop, rock-and-roll, rap, selections and adaptations of 'classical' music, and more" (5). As for the relationship between music and film, the editors' goal is to break down the traditional dichotomy of "musical" or "nonmusical" films and instead adopt a comparative, relational approach to studying film music in various contexts. The result is that the essays included track various aspects of popular music in film, both chronologically (from the earliest days of cinema to recent trends) and spatially (essays include analyses of differences in international film music practices). Further, the editors have enough of an evangelical zeal for their subject that the book successfully addresses multiple constituencies, such as undergraduate and graduate scholars, as well as a more general public readership.
The contribution that Wojcik and Knight make in the introduction alone makes this book noteworthy. The editors trace the presence of popular music in film from the earliest days of public film exhibitions, with the use of song slides, singers, orchestras, piano accompaniment, and phonographs; to the musical in classical Hollywood cinema as well as the seamless use of music in films such as Casablanca (1942); and the important role that music plays in genre films. In the rock era, for example, popular music has played a crucial role in strikingly different ways, from Rock around the Clock to The Graduate to Boogie Nights. The editors survey the history of cinema and find music at every stage.
In comparison to such wide and varied uses of popular music, the discipline of film studies has taken a long time to catch up. The editors trace the trajectory of film music studies, making clear that in this traditionally marginal field popular music has held an even more precarious position. They write: "Film music histories, whether coffee table books for buffs or serious academic works by musicologists, have tended to treat film music history as a series of great works by great composers" (5). In this approach, music was too often separated from the filmic context. It also sacrificed examining the relationship between music, dialogue, and sound effects in favor of concentrating on film music's ancestral relationship with classical music.
According to the editors, this began to change in the late 1980s due to interventions by Claudia Gorbman, Caryl Flinn, and others (6). Their work used the best aspects of musicological research while taking care to contextualize film music within the film. Taking their cue from film studies, they employed the ideological analysis common to the field while trying to overcome film scholarship's impoverished musical vocabulary. As important as this work was to the emergence of film music studies as a viable area of study within the academy, it still left popular music out of the conversation.
This began to change with academic work on the musical. Concurrent to the work by Gorbman and others, work on musicals began to appear, work by Rick Altman, Jane Feuer, Gerald Mast, and others. Wojcik and Knight note they are particularly indebted to this work: "They opened the door for many of us to finally hear the movies we care about" (7). However, work on the musical too often concentrated solely on the [End Page 92] relationship between the music and narrative and left most other concerns alone.
The editors most closely associate their own project with two recent works, Jonathan Romney and Adrian Wooten's Celluloid Jukebox: Popular Music in the Movies since the 50s and Jeff Smith's The Sound of Commerce: Marketing Popular Music. Following the lead of these books, Wojcik and Knight's collection offers close readings of...