Strains of Utopia

Strains of Utopia: Gender, Nostalgia, and Hollywood Film Music

Caryl Flinn
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 212
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s7kk
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    Strains of Utopia
    Book Description:

    When Dmitri Tiomkin thanked Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss, and Richard Wagner upon accepting the Academy Award for his score of The High and the Mighty in 1954, he was honoring a romantic style that had characterized Hollywood's golden age of film composition from the mid-1930s to the 1950s. Exploring elements of romanticism in film scores of composers ranging from Erich Korngold to Bernard Herrmann, Caryl Flinn argues that films tended to link music to the sense of an idealized, lost past. Just as the score of Gone with the Wind captured the grandeur of the antebellum South, others prompted flashbacks or suggested moments of emotional intensity and sensuality. Maintaining that many films treated this utopian impulse as a female trait, Flinn investigates the ways Hollywood genre films--particularly film noir and melodrama--sustained the connection between music and nostalgia, utopia, and femininity. The author situates Hollywood film scores within a romantic aesthetic ideology, noting compositional and theoretical affinities between the film composers and Wagner, with emphasis on authorship, creativity, and femininity. Pointing to the lasting impact of romanticism on film music, Flinn draws from poststructuralist, Marxist, feminist, and psychoanalytic criticism to offer fresh insights into the broad theme of music as an excessive utopian condition.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2065-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-12)

    When dmitri tiomkin received the Academy Award for the score ofThe High and the Mightyin 1955, he gave the following broken acceptance speech: “Ladies and gentlemen . . . I like to make some kind of appreciation to very important factor which makes me successful and adds to quality of this town. I like to thank Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner. . . .”¹ There were peals of laughter. Perhaps the audience did not understand just how much Tiomkin’s words actually said about the impact of classical music on the cinema and about Hollywood’s debt...

  5. ONE THE NEW ROMANTICISM: HOLLYWOOD FILM COMPOSITION IN THE 1930s AND 1940s
    (pp. 13-50)

    During the Hollywood studio era, film music was assigned a remarkably stable set of functions. It was repeatedly and systematically used to enhance emotional moments in the story line, and to establish moods and maintain continuity between scenes. A similar uniformity was suggested by its style as well, since most scores were composed in a manner deeply influenced by late romantic composers like Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. Even the well-funded and carefully stratified music departments indicate the secure position the filmscore enjoyed within studio production more generally. It is scarcely coincidental that this period of overall stability is usually...

  6. TWO THE MAN BEHIND THE MUSE: MUSIC AND THE LOST MATERNAL OBJECT
    (pp. 51-69)

    The literature surrounding classical film music is by no means unique in claiming that music promotes the sense of completion and unity. Insofar as the text “itself” is concerned, it is important to remember that the model of the cohesive, integrated artwork has, with differing degrees of emphasis, dominated Western aesthetics since Plato and Aristotle.¹ In recent history, as the previous chapter has shown, it was taken up with particular zeal by late nineteenth-century romanticism, which subsequently bequeathed it to the classical Hollywood cinema. But, since the demise of the studio era, the paradigm has shifted somewhat and the critical...

  7. THREE MUSICAL UTOPIAS IN MARXISM AND CULTURAL CRITICISM
    (pp. 70-90)

    Like their poststructuralist counterparts, Marxist music scholars and cultural critics often believe music’s untraditional, “excessive” effects challenge the ways perception and aesthetic consumption conventionally operate. And whereas Barthes and Kristeva take music into the realm of subjectivity to do this—only finally to disengage it effectively from its social or historical context—Marxists insist upon music’s entanglementwiththe facts of history, culture, and ideology. The allure of this latter position comes from its refusal both to cast music’s “subversive,” alternative effects into predominantly subjective or metaphorical phenomena. By considering music as a relatively concrete object of study (consider, for...

  8. FOUR OUT OF THE PAST: RECONTEXTUALIZING THE UTOPIAS OF FILM MUSIC
    (pp. 91-107)

    Although the classical approach to film music dominated a specific historical and institutional setting, and although that setting, though fully situated in the twentieth century, adhered to the aesthetic ideology of late nineteenth-century romanticism, it is by now apparent that romanticism’s influence extends well beyond the golden era of Hollywood film scoring. Virtually all of the approaches to film or popular music we have covered subscribe to at least one of its tenets: that music offers something more than conventional language; that it reveals glimpses of a better, more unified world (or a more profound experience of our own); that...

  9. FIVE MUSICAL UTOPIAS OF THE CLASSICAL FILM
    (pp. 108-150)

    It is extremely difficult to find an anticipatory strain in Hollywood’s classical film scores, since most lean heavily on the backward-looking model against which Bloch and others rallied so vigorously. Indeed the tendency cuts across a variety of films and genres. In Westerns likeRed River(1948), for example, traditional folk songs recall America’s “Old West”; the powerful main theme ofKing’s Rowevokes the pleasant childhood of its two male protagonists;¹ and “As Time Goes By” provides a musical souvenir of Ilsa and Rick’s love affair inCasablanca(1942). The nostalgic utopia that influences so much of the theoretical...

  10. SIX MUSIC AND INTERPRETATION
    (pp. 151-158)

    In 1977, simone signoret released her autobiography entitledNostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be.¹ Perhaps it isn’t, although more likely, it never was. The point is, it is still going strong today. Contemporary art music audiences get more opportunities to hear Beethoven performed than they do Steve Reich; commercials promote everything from regional health centers to champagne using the tried-and-true warhorses of Western art music. Pop culture in the United States takes us back through retro dressing, contemporary television shows likeChina BeachandThe Wonder Years(not to mention reruns), and the golden oldie programs that saturate radio...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 159-182)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 183-188)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 189-195)