Film, Media and Music

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Theme and variations
Tomas Williams

This chapter assesses the partnership’s working relationship by addressing their ninth film project together, Torn Curtain, for which Hitchcock rejected Herrmann’s score, dramatically bringing forth the end of their successful period of collaboration, giving background to the artistic conflict over Torn Curtain that resulted in the feud between Hitchcock and Herrmann, and ultimately saw the film rescored by John Addison. It discusses the effect this change had upon the film by drawing particular attention to what is perhaps the most famous scene, the murder of Gromek. Discussion addresses three different versions of the same scene; the final film version, in which there is no musical score, and Herrmann and Addison’s musical interpretations of this scene which were both rejected by Hitchcock. Drawing direct comparison between these three ways of viewing Gromek’s death, enables an analysis between the appropriateness of Herrmann and Addison’s music for Hitchcock’s filmmaking, and the ultimate effect created by the final scoreless version of the scene. By examining the discarded musical artefacts of Hitchcock’s relationship with Herrmann, we are able to reach a more thorough understanding of their working partnership, and the ways in which Herrmann could truly affect the reception of a Hitchcock film.

in Partners in suspense
Marnie (1964)
K. J. Donnelly

Hitchcock and Herrmann had a symbiotic and complementary artistic relationship. However, as this chapter contends, rather than necessarily synergic in their understanding of the unified requirements of drama, sometimes their complementary relationship took on a different character. In Marnie, Herrmann’s music attempted to ameliorate Hitchcock’s dark interests, in an attempt to romanticize Hitchcock’s bleak and grotesque story about a psychologist’s fantasy about possessing a disturbed kleptomaniac killer, which includes a deeply disquieting rape scene. The music moves to make these elements bearable, with a ‘sleight of hand’ that misdirects us from the utter darkness and irredeemable characters and obscene aspects of the film narrative.

in Partners in suspense
Sound, music and the car journey in Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960)
Pasquale Iannone

Of all the Herrmann-Hitchcock collaborations, Vertigo and Psycho remain not only the most famous but also the most aesthetically different. The intensely romantic, full-bodied Wagnerian score of the first would seem diametrically opposed to the chilling, strings-only score of the second. While Vertigo deals with romantic obsession, the sound of Psycho is one of ‘primordial dread’. What unites the two films, however, is the dominant role played by Herrmann’s music. This chapter will discuss sound, music and the representation of two separate car journeys. Through detailed scene analysis as well as close engagement with the writings of Jack Sullivan, Michel Chion and Elisabeth Weis amongst others, the chapter examines the importance of sound (and Herrmann’s music) in both driving the narrative but also reflecting characters’ unstable subjectivity.

in Partners in suspense
Critical essays on Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock

For a decade from 1955, Alfred Hitchcock worked almost exclusively with one composer: Bernard Herrmann. From The Trouble with Harry to the bitter spat surrounding Torn Curtain, the partnership gave us some of cinema’s most memorable musical moments, taught us to stay out of the shower, away from heights and never to spend time in corn fields. Consequently, fascination with their work and relationship endures fifty years later. This volume of new, spellbinding essays explores their tense working relationship as well as their legacy, from crashing cymbals to the sound of The Birds.

The volume brings together new work and new perspectives on the relationship between Hitchcock and Herrmann. Featuring new essays by leading scholars of Hitchcock’s work, including Richard Allen, Charles Barr, Murray Pomerance, Sidney Gottlieb, and Jack Sullivan, the volume examines the working relationship between the pair and the contribution that Herrmann’s work brings to Hitchcock’s idiom. Examining key works, including The Man Who Knew Too Much, Psycho, Marnie and Vertigo, the collection explores approaches to sound, music, collaborative authorship and the distinctive contribution that Herrmann’s work with Hitchcock brought to this body of films.

Partners in Suspense examines the significance, meanings, histories and enduring legacies of one of film history’s most important partnerships. By engaging with the collaborative work of Hitchcock and Herrmann, the essays in the collection examine the ways in which film directors and composers collaborate, how this collaboration is experienced in the film text, and the ways such a partnership inspires later work.

Bernard Herrmann and The Man Who Knew Too Much
Murray Pomerance

While Herrmann's twenty-four successful and one failed collaboration with Hitchcock – including films and television programs – featured compositional scoring to some degree, Herrmann's work on The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is a peculiar deviation in the pattern of their regular working relationship because there are only a very small number of composed cues. The bulk of Herrmann's work on this film, which involved some considerable legal machinations, consisted of two very different kinds of contribution, each of which can tell us something about the composer's talents, diligence, and sensitivity to film production. On one hand he was called upon to arrange "received" music, and this in a wide range from Moroccan folk tunes to elaborate symphonic work, and including the traditionalist hymn, "The Portents." On the other, he became a member of the cast, on this one occasion only in his filmic work with Hitchcock, playing the role of a conductor at a performance in the Royal Albert Hall. This chapter argues that, since the overall score of the film is essentially an acoustic quilt, we find here evidence of a talent for assemblage and backgrounding that Herrmann does not have opportunity to show in his other work with Hitchcock.

in Partners in suspense
Richard Allen

This chapter explores the role of sound in The Birds. It is well known that Hitchcock does not use a conventional score in The Birds and music is heard only twice in the film. The rest of the soundtrack consists of dialogue and sound effects. However, prominent among the sound effects are the sounds of the birds themselves that were created with the help of an electronic instrument called the Mixturtrautonium devised and played by Oskar Sala. The Mixturtrautonium was a more sophisticated, "solid state", version of an older valve instrument called the Trautonium, invented by Sala’s mentor Friedrich Trautwein. The "processed" character of the bird sounds, the complex role they play in the film, and the fact that they sound as if they are made by an "instrument" rather than simply being a "naturalized" sound effect, the chapter argues, all contribute to the sense that sound of the birds functions, in certain respects, like an electronic score, as opposed to a source sound.

in Partners in suspense
Sidney Gottlieb

In Vertigo, we have a sobering dramatization of the limits of music therapy – as Midge says sadly, Mozart isn't going to help very much when it comes to some life crises – but in several other Hitchcock films, the composition and performance of music are specifically linked to the resolution of very serious personal and interpersonal challenges and dilemmas, and can not only change or shape but save a relationship and a life. This chapter’s two key examples are Waltzes from Vienna and Rear Window, and it connects their presentation of the therapeutic function of music to Hitchcock's consistent "thematization" of music, that is to say, the extent to which his films not only utilize but are about music (a vital but often neglected aspect of the study of the relationship between film and music, in Hitchcock’s films and elsewhere) and also relates his presentation of the therapeutic use of music to several films in particular by one of his major influences, D.W. Griffith. Pippa Passes and Home Sweet Home provide models that Hitchcock made good use of in his dramatizations of the far-reaching redemptive power of music.

in Partners in suspense
Open Access (free)
James Baldwin and the Broken Silences of Black Queer Men
McKinley E Melton

James Baldwin writes within and against the testimonial tradition emerging from the Black Church, challenging the institution’s refusal to acknowledge the voices and experiences of black queer men. Baldwin’s autobiographical novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, creates a space for Baldwin’s testimony to be expressed, and also lays the foundation for a tradition of black queer artists to follow. In the contemporary moment, poet Danez Smith inhabits Baldwin’s legacy, offering continuing critiques of the rigidity of conservative Christian ideologies, while publishing and performing poetry that gives voice to their own experiences, and those of the black queer community at large. These testimonies ultimately function as a means of rhetorical resistance, which not only articulates black queer lives and identities, but affirms them.  

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
Biographical Dispatches on a Freedom Writer
Phillip Luke Sinitiere

This essay presents the idea of James Baldwin as a freedom writer, the organizing idea of my biography in progress. As a freedom writer, Baldwin was a revolutionary intellectual, an essayist and novelist committed unfailingly to the realization of racial justice, interracial political equality, and economic democracy. While the book is still in process, this short essay narrates autobiographically how I came to meet and know Baldwin’s work, explains in critical fashion my work in relation to existing biographies, and reflects interpretively my thoughts-in- progress on this fascinating and captivating figure of immense historical and social consequence.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
Listening over James Baldwin’s Shoulder
Ed Pavlić

Black music played a crucial role in the work and life of James Baldwin. What Baldwin heard in the music guided his sense of political reality and human possibility, his invention of character, his shifting analytical point of view, and his decisions about what to do, when, and how to do it during his life in private and career in public. The music, therefore, also offers his critics and his readers important insight and guidance in their own experience and interpretation of his work. This brief essay accounts for some of the most basic connections between Baldwin and black music; it serves here as an introduction to a list of songs, some of which offered Baldwin important guidance and some of which offer his readers access to deeper meanings in his work. A playlist of songs, curated by Ed Pavlić and Justin A. Joyce, is available on YouTube at

James Baldwin Review