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FU-BEST 28: Film Music: Listening Outside the Frame (Spring only)

InstructorAlasdair Reid
Credit Points6 ECTS / 3 U.S. credits

Spring semester only


Film is often understood as a primarily visual art form, with the development of novel visual technologies, such as 3D, being heavily advertised and well known to mainstream international audiences. In this course, we will uncover an equally important, yet often overlooked, component of film: music. Over the course of the semester we will examine how music has contributed to the success and evolution of films throughout the history of the film industry in North America and Europe.

We will begin with a discussion of the stylistic origins of film music in the Western (and specifically Germanic) classical music tradition, with particular focus on the influence of Richard Wagner. This will be followed by an investigation into the intertwining histories of film and sound-recording technology during their infancy, in which we will examine groundbreaking techniques and works developed in Germany, France, and the United States. Our second task will be to situate the role of film music in some of the most vital movement and moments in film history. For example, we will consider Prokofiev’s music in Soviet Russian war epics, as well as the naturalistic “folk” music present in neo-realist Italian films. In our third unit, we expand our investigation beyond film drama to survey how music and sound are used to construct genre. Each week will focus on one genre—for example, action/adventure, horror, musicals—with detailed discussions of representative works in these genres from a variety of time periods and locations. For instance, during our week on musicals we will consider how the early history of the genre was situated in Hollywood, but quickly sparked an international genre including creative re-workings of the genre such as Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and the truly global production, Dance in the Dark. Our semester will end with an exploration of films that were inspired largely by music (rather than music composed to fit film). This unit will include a week on music documentaries and the construction of realism, as well as avant-garde explorations of the intersections of film and music.

As is the case for all of the arts, Berlin is an ideal location in which to study music and film. Thus, we will explore this cultural landscape with specific encounters that will complement our conversations and readings. For example, we will visit a theater that hosts a weekly showing of a “silent movie” alongside a live organist.