Listening to Movies


A Film Lover’s Guide to Film Music

Hardcover: 428 pages Illustrated
Publisher: Schirmer; 1 edition (May 13, 1994)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0028733150
ISBN-13: 978-0028733159
Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 7.7 x 1.3 inches

Buy from amazon

Like his earlier On the Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring, Fred Karlin’s new book Listening to Movies is one of the most important film music books to be published in recent years. Not a historical overview of film music development, not a collection of composer bio’s or interviews, not even an elaborate, musicological analysis – Karlin has written a book for the listeners – those of us who love films and film music and want to further our appreciation of the art and technique of film scoring. Where On the Track gave the composers’ perspective – how and why and what to do – here Karlin examines how film music works from a listener’s perspective. Liberally spiced with hundreds of quotes from dozens of composers, directors and authors, Listening to Movies provides an excellent and invaluable foundation for appreciating, understanding and delighting in cinema music.

“There are no technical prerequisites for enjoying film music or reading this book,” writes Karlin in his Preface. “You don’t have to read music, play an instrument or have any previous knowledge of music… Most of us come to this study well prepared with a lifetime of viewing and listening experience. The more you really listen, the more you will hear, and this book can guide your understanding of what to listen for.”

With an introduction by Leonard Maltin, Listening to Movies is divided into four major sections (supplemented by a selected chronology and profiles of eleven contemporary composers). Part One describes how it’s done – a short overview on the planning, composing and recording/mixing processes that create a film score. Part Two examines in detail what goes into film scores – and what to listen for. Karlin perceptively discusses such elements as style, concept, melody, tempo and pulse, harmony, orchestration, form and development, and techniques for playing (or playing against) the drama. With innumerable examples, Karlin describes how these elements have been used to complement the film’s visual action as well as its emotional and psychological sub texts.

“Basically there are two vital aspects of any score,” Karlin writes. “It must completely and fully serve the film, and it must complement and amplify the emotional text and subtext of the film… other factors such as sincerity, musical independence, form and development, thematic strength, and overall originality are also important in evaluating any film score.” (p.85)

This section includes a significant chapter analyzing in detail eight important film scores – including Korngold’s ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, Steiner’s DARK VICTORY, Herrmann’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, Bernstein’s MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, Williams’ CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and Morricone’s THE UNTOUCHABLES. Karlin describes the music’s style and concept, itemizes each cue of recorded music, and then analyzes how the music played in the film and how the elements discussed in the earlier section pertain to this score and its effectiveness as film music.

The book’s third section deals with Hollywood, with an overview of the former studio system, its effect on the creation of film scores, and the current freelancing of film composers. The fourth section deals with Show Business: Oscars and the like, and a chapter on songs and soundtrack records, which provides an excellent look into the business of commercially recorded film music, how it’s licensed and marketed. Two appendices of Academy Award nominees and winners for original score (listed alphabetically by composer) and a list of soundtrack shops and vendors, a filmography of film titles and their composers, and a selected, annotated bibliography supplements the narrative.

If you were marooned on an island with only your soundtrack collection and a first-rate stereo system and only had access to one book (and, hopefully, an electrical outlet to plug in your stereo system – LVDV) – this is the book to bring along. Listening to Movies contains everything the film music fan needs to further his or her appreciation of this still unrecognized art. More than simply providing fascinating facts, Karlin makes you want to go back and listen to the scores and see the movies and hear their music with a renewed understanding.

Randall D. Larson


No comment posted yet.

Leave a Reply