Film Music Review
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Book Review:


FILM MUSIC: A Very Short Introduction

by Kathryn Kalinak

Oxford University Press,
Paperback, 2010. 144 pages.

Rating: Very Good


Since this is a very short book, I'll also keep my evaluation brief.

This is an interesting approach to covering a subject and Oxford University has dozens of titles available on many different topics, from African History to Writing and Script.

The book under consideration was written by one of the scholars in the field of film music, Kathryn Kalinak. She is Professor of English and Film Studies at Rhode Island College and author of How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford and Settling the Score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Film.

In FILM MUSIC: A Very Short Introduction, Kalinak has assembled it in seven concise chapters, the first three asking these pertinent questions:

1. What does the music do?
2. How does film music work?
3. Why does film music work?

The next three cover a brief survey of film music:

4. A history of film music I: 1895-1927
5. A history of film music II: 1927-1960
6. A hisotry of film music III: 1960-present

The final chapter is devoted to

7. Composes and their craft

I have just a few minor complaints about the book.

The main one I have is that the author tries to cover too much territory in such a small volume. While it is appropriate to include film music from other parts of the world, such as India, without much knowledge of these films, this music will probably not be readily available to hear or watch.
It might seem too chauvinistic in these "politically correct" times to focus on film music from the U.S. and Europe, but those are the regions where the majority of film music is known to a large segment of the population.

Also, I believe too much emphasis is placed on more recent film music, which is not of the same high quality as the film scores from the so-called "Golden Age" of the 1930s to 1950s, when composers such as Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa, Dimitri Tiomkin, and others were turning out such memorable music.

It would have been helpful to have a short discography of representative recordings included in the back of the book for each chapter. With so much film music available on CD and other formats, it would have provided sources for those who would like to hear the music away from the film itself.

There is a useful section at the back of the book of suggested books and articles for each chapter. The two endorsements on the back cover of the book by Caryl Finn and K.J. Donnelly are also included in this reading list, which suggests a bit too chummy relationship with the author, assuming they know one another. If not, then this criticism is of less consequence.

Naturally it isn't possible in such a short introduction to include every book on film music. If I may be so bold to suggest that readers might also take look at my e- book, A Guide to Film Music, which has an extensive bibliography and discography, and covers some of the same material in this very short introduction, including some music examples.

This handy pocket-size little book about film music would be easy to carry around in your pocket, purse or briefcase and provides a very concise discussion of a still misunderstood art form. Yes, I said art form. For me, film music is in the the same category as classical music which is generally accepted as an art form. I believe the author of this book might agree with my classification but that's not so important.

What is important is this "very short introduction" should be read by anyone who wants to better understand and appreciate the process and production of film music.

This book is especially useful to any film or music fan who wants a better understanding of how film music works and why it is so necessary. I recommend it.

----Roger Hall, 22 April 2010

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