Astounding Sounds: Intention and Ambivalence in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music

Jordan, Wendy Jane. 2011. Astounding Sounds: Intention and Ambivalence in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This project examines how music expresses the complexities of urban existence in contemporary Hollywood films. To do this I trace the history of Hollywood film music, while surveying existing literature on film scores. Significantly, I include commentary from practitioners to authenticate an evolving model of scoring practices, in addition to ideas from musicologists, film studies and film music academics. The early chapters describe the development of the specially-composed classical score, the rise of the pre-existing pop score, and the introduction of hybrid scores. Paying equal attention to classical and pop scores, I conduct a film musicological analysis of three contemporary existentialist films - Heat (1995), Magnolia (1999) and Moulin Rouge (2001). I explore ideas expressed by, among others, Claudia Gorbman on the persuasive power of the 'unheard' classical score, and by Anahid Kassabian on the open-ended permutations of the 'heard' pop score, in order to unravel the subtle changes in modern film scoring.

In my chosen films, characters choose actions which result in psychological turmoil and damaging relationships. My central question is: How does contemporary film music express such ambivalence? How is it different to 'conventional' film music which privileges narrative? Indeed, is music becoming the new narrative? To pursue these questions, I controversially employ the techniques of traditional musicological analysis to assert the equal value of both types of score used for contemporary urban films.

My study shows that when conventional film music techniques are subverted by giving the score increased status, more complicated, open-ended and challenging stories can be told, which more directly express the contemporary psyche. These 'music narratives', comprising ambiguous scoring techniques, generate a range of ethical questions for audience contemplation, exposing and reinforcing the deep-rooted ambivalence of survival. If the repositioning of music is redefining film narrative, then music analysis and musicological method are becoming indispensable for film studies.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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film music, film scores, Hollywood cinema, urban existence, narrative, musicological analysis, Heat (1995), Magnolia (1999), Moulin Rouge (2001)



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Date Deposited:

19 Jun 2020 08:32

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 12:43


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